CITIES AND SPACES
What would you do with a magic carpet if one were lent you? I ask
because for a month we had a private car of our very own--a trifling
affair less than seventy foot long and thirty ton weight. 'You may find
her useful,' said the donor casually, 'to knock about the country. Hitch
on to any train you choose and stop off where you choose.'
So she bore us over the C.P.R. from the Atlantic to the Pacific and
back, and when we had no more need of her, vanished like the mango tree
after the trick.
A private car, though many books have been written in it, is hardly the
best place from which to study a country, unless it happen that you have
kept house and seen the seasons round under normal conditions on the
same continent. Then you know how the cars look from the houses; which
is not in the least as the houses look from the cars. Then, the very
porter's brush in its nickel clip, the long cathedral-like aisle between
the well-known green seats, the toll of the bell and the deep organ-like
note of the engine wake up memories; and every sight, smell, and sound
outside are like old friends remembering old days together. A piano-top
buggy on a muddy, board-sidewalked street, all cut up by the narrow
tires; the shingling at the corner of a veranda on a new-built house; a
broken snake-fence girdling an old pasture of mulleins and skull-headed
boulders; a wisp of Virginia creeper dying splendidly on the edge of a
patch of corn; half a dozen panels of snow-fence above a cutting, or
even a shameless patent-medicine advertisement, yellow on the black of a
tobacco-barn, can make the heart thump and the eyes fill if the beholder
have only touched the life of which they are part. What must they mean
to the native-born? There was a prairie-bred girl on the train, coming
back after a year on the Continent, for whom the pine-belted hills, with
real mountains behind, the solemn loops of the river, and the intimate
friendly farm had nothing to tell.
'You can do these landscapes better in Italy,' she explained, and, with
the indescribable gesture of plains folk stifled in broken ground, 'I
want to push these hills away and get into the open again! I'm
She would have understood that Hanover Road schoolmistress, back from a
visit to Cape Town, whom I once saw drive off into thirty miles of
mirage almost shouting, 'Thank God, here's something like home at last.'
Other people ricochetted from side to side of the car, reviving this,
rediscovering that, anticipating t'other thing, which, sure enough, slid
round the next curve to meet them, caring nothing if all the world knew
they were home again; and the newly arrived Englishman with his large
wooden packing-cases marked 'Settlers' Effects' had no more part in the
show than a new boy his first day at school. But two years in Canada and
one run home will make him free of the Brotherhood in Canada as it does
anywhere else. He may grumble at certain aspects of the life, lament
certain richnesses only to be found in England, but as surely as he
grumbles so surely he returns to the big skies, and the big chances. The
failures are those who complain that the land 'does not know a gentleman
when it sees him.' They are quite right. The land suspends all judgment
on all men till it has seen them work. Thereafter as may be; but work
they must because there is a very great deal to be done.
Unluckily the railroads which made the country are bringing in persons
who are particular as to the nature and amenities of their work, and if
so be they do not find precisely what they are looking for, they
complain in print which makes all men seem equal.
The special joy of our trip lay in having travelled the line when it was
new and, like the Canada of those days, not much believed in, when all
the high and important officials, whose little fingers unhooked cars,
were also small and disregarded. To-day, things, men, and cities were
different, and the story of the line mixed itself up with the story of
the country, the while the car-wheels clicked out, 'John Kino--John
Kino! Nagasaki, Yokohama, Hakodate, Heh!' for we were following in the
wake of the Imperial Limited, all full of Hongkong and Treaty Ports men.
There were old, known, and wonderfully grown cities to be looked at
before we could get away to the new work out west, and, 'What d'you
think of this building and that suburb?' they said, imperiously. 'Come
out and see what has been done in this generation.'
The impact of a Continent is rather overwhelming till you remind
yourself that it is no more than your own joy and love and pride in your
own patch of garden written a little large over a few more acres. Again,
as always, it was the dignity of the cities that impressed--an austere
Northern dignity of outline, grouping, and perspective, aloof from the
rush of traffic in the streets. Montreal, of the black-frocked priests
and the French notices, had it; and Ottawa, of the grey stone palaces
and the St. Petersburg-like shining water-frontages; and Toronto,
consumingly commercial, carried the same power in the same repose. Men
are always building better than they know, and perhaps this steadfast
architecture is waiting for the race when their first flurry of
newly-realised expansion shall have spent itself, and the present
hurrah's-nest of telephone poles in the streets shall have been
abolished. There are strong objections to any non-fusible, bi-lingual
community within a nation, but however much the French are made to hang
back in the work of development, their withdrawn and unconcerned
cathedrals, schools, and convents, and one aspect of the spirit that
breathes from them, make for good. Says young Canada: 'There are
millions of dollars' worth of church property in the cities which aren't
allowed to be taxed.' On the other hand, the Catholic schools and
universities, though they are reported to keep up the old medieval
mistrust of Greek, teach the classics as lovingly, tenderly, and
intimately as the old Church has always taught them. After all, it must
be worth something to say your prayers in a dialect of the tongue that
Virgil handled; and a certain touch of insolence, more magnificent and
more ancient than the insolence of present materialism, makes a good
blend in a new land.
I had the good fortune to see the cities through the eyes of an
Englishman out for the first time. 'Have you been to the Bank?' he
cried. 'I've never seen anything like it!' 'What's the matter with the
Bank?' I asked: for the financial situation across the Border was at
that moment more than usual picturesque. 'It's wonderful!' said he;
'marble pillars--acres of mosaic--steel grilles--'might be a cathedral.
No one ever told me.' 'I shouldn't worry over a Bank that pays its
depositors,' I replied soothingly. 'There are several like it in Ottawa
and Toronto.' Next he ran across some pictures in some palaces, and was
downright angry because no one had told him that there were five
priceless private galleries in one city. 'Look here!' he explained.
'I've been seeing Corots, and Greuzes, and Gainsboroughs, and a
Holbein, and--and hundreds of really splendid pictures!' 'Why shouldn't
you?' I said. 'They've given up painting their lodges with vermilion
hereabouts.' 'Yes, but what I mean is, have you seen the equipment of
their schools and colleges--desks, libraries, and lavatories? It's miles
ahead of anything we have and--no one ever told me.' 'What was the good
of telling? You wouldn't have believed. There's a building in one of the
cities, on the lines of the Sheldonian, but better, and if you go as far
as Winnipeg, you'll see the finest hotel in all the world.'
'Nonsense!' he said. 'You're pulling my leg! Winnipeg's a prairie-town.'
I left him still lamenting--about a Club and a Gymnasium this time--that
no one had ever told him about; and still doubting all that he had heard
of Wonders to come.
If we could only manacle four hundred Members of Parliament, like the
Chinese in the election cartoons, and walk them round the Empire, what
an all-comprehending little Empire we should be when the survivors got
Certainly the Cities have good right to be proud, and I waited for them
to boast; but they were so busy explaining they were only at the
beginning of things that, for the honour of the Family, I had to do the
boasting. In this praiseworthy game I credited Melbourne (rightly, I
hope, but the pace was too good to inquire) with acres of municipal
buildings and leagues of art galleries; enlarged the borders of Sydney
harbour to meet a statement about Toronto's, wharfage; and recommended
folk to see Cape Town Cathedral when it should be finished. But Truth
will out even on a visit. Our Eldest Sister has more of beauty and
strength inside her three cities alone than the rest of Us put together.
Yet it would do her no harm to send a commission through the ten great
cities of the Empire to see what is being done there in the way of
street cleaning, water-supply, and traffic-regulation.
Here and there the people are infected with the unworthy superstition of
'hustle,' which means half-doing your appointed job and applauding your
own slapdasherie for as long a time as would enable you to finish off
two clean pieces of work. Little congestions of traffic, that an English
rural policeman, in a country town, disentangles automatically, are
allowed to develop into ten-minute blocks, where wagons and men bang,
and back, and blaspheme, for no purpose except to waste time.
The assembly and dispersal of crowds, purchase of tickets, and a good
deal of the small machinery of life is clogged and hampered by this
unstable, southern spirit which is own brother to Panic. 'Hustle' does
not sit well on the national character any more than falsetto or
fidgeting becomes grown men. 'Drive,' a laudable and necessary quality,
is quite different, and one meets it up the Western Road where the new
country is being made.
We got clean away from the Three Cities and the close-tilled farming
and orchard districts, into the Land of Little Lakes--a country of
rushing streams, clear-eyed ponds, and boulders among berry-bushes; all
crying 'Trout' and 'Bear.'
Not so very long ago only a few wise people kept holiday in that part of
the world, and they did not give away their discoveries. Now it has
become a summer playground where people hunt and camp at large. The
names of its further rivers are known in England, and men, otherwise
sane, slip away from London into the birches, and come out again bearded
and smoke-stained, when the ice is thick enough to cut a canoe.
Sometimes they go to look for game; sometimes for minerals--perhaps,
even, oil. No one can prophesy. 'We are only at the beginning of
Said an Afrite of the Railway as we passed in our magic carpet: 'You've
no notion of the size of our tourist-traffic. It has all grown up since
the early 'Nineties. The trolley car teaches people in the towns to go
for little picnics. When they get more money they go for long ones. All
this Continent will want playgrounds soon. We're getting them ready.'
The girl from Winnipeg saw the morning frost lie white on the long grass
at the lake edges, and watched the haze of mellow golden birch leaves as
they dropped. 'Now that's the way trees ought to turn,' she said. 'Don't
you think our Eastern maple is a little violent in colour?' Then we
passed through a country where for many hours the talk in the cars was
of mines and the treatment of ores. Men told one tales--prospectors'
yarns of the sort one used to hear vaguely before Klondike or Nome were
public property. They did not care whether one believed or doubted.
They, too, were only at the beginning of things--silver perhaps, gold
perhaps, nickel perhaps. If a great city did not arise at such a
place--the very name was new since my day--it would assuredly be born
within a few miles of it. The silent men boarded the cars, and dropped
off, and disappeared beyond thickets and hills precisely as the first
widely spaced line of skirmishers fans out and vanishes along the front
of the day's battle.
One old man sat before me like avenging Time itself, and talked of
prophecies of evil, that had been falsified. '_They_ said there wasn't
nothing here excep' rocks an' snow. _They_ said there never _wouldn't_
be nothing here excep' the railroad. There's them that can't see _yit_,'
and he gimleted me with a fierce eye. 'An' all the while, fortunes is
made--piles is made--right under our noses.'
'Have you made your pile?' I asked.
He smiled as the artist smiles--all true prospectors have that lofty
smile--'Me? No. I've been a prospector most o' my time, but I haven't
lost anything. I've had my fun out of the game. By God, I've had my fun
out of it!
I told him how I had once come through when land and timber grants
could have been picked up for half less than nothing.
'Yes,' he said placidly. 'I reckon if you'd had any kind of an education
you could ha' made a quarter of a million dollars easy in those days.
And it's to be made now if you could see where. How? Can you tell me
what the capital of the Hudson Bay district's goin' to be? You can't.
Nor I. Nor yet where the six next new cities is going to arise, I get
off here, but if I have my health I'll be out next summer
Imagine a country where men prospect till they are seventy, with no fear
of fever, fly, horse-sickness, or trouble from the natives--a country
where food and water always taste good! He told me curious things about
some fabled gold--the Eternal Mother-lode--out in the North, which is
to humble the pride of Nome. And yet, so vast is the Empire, he had
never heard the name of Johannesburg!
As the train swung round the shores of Lake Superior the talk swung over
to Wheat. Oh yes, men said, there were mines in the country--they were
only at the beginning of mines--but that part of the world existed to
clean and grade and handle and deliver the Wheat by rail and steamer.
The track was being duplicated by a few hundred miles to keep abreast of
the floods of it. By and by it might be a four-track road. They were
only at the beginning. Meantime here was the Wheat sprouting, tender
green, a foot high, among a hundred sidings where it had spilled from
the cars; there were the high-shouldered, tea-caddy grain-elevators to
clean, and the hospitals to doctor the Wheat; here was new, gaily
painted machinery going forward to reap and bind and thresh the Wheat,
and all those car-loads of workmen had been slapping down more sidings
against the year's delivery of the Wheat.
Two towns stand on the shores of the lake less than a mile apart. What
Lloyd's is to shipping, or the College of Surgeons to medicine, that
they are to the Wheat. Its honour and integrity are in their hands; and
they hate each other with the pure, poisonous, passionate hatred which
makes towns grow. If Providence wiped out one of them, the survivor
would pine away and die--a mateless hate-bird. Some day they must unite,
and the question of the composite name they shall then carry already
vexes them. A man there told me that Lake Superior was 'a useful piece
of water,' in that it lay so handy to the C.P.R. tracks. There is a
quiet horror about the Great Lakes which grows as one revisits them.
Fresh water has no right or call to dip over the horizon, pulling down
and pushing up the hulls of big steamers; no right to tread the slow,
deep-sea dance-step between wrinkled cliffs; nor to roar in on weed and
sand beaches between vast headlands that run out for leagues into haze
and sea-fog. Lake Superior is all the same stuff as what towns pay taxes
for, but it engulfs and wrecks and drives ashore, like a fully
accredited ocean--a hideous thing to find in the heart of a continent.
Some people go sailing on it for pleasure, and it has produced a breed
of sailors who bear the same relation to the salt-water variety as a
snake-charmer does to a lion-tamer.
Yet it is undoubtedly a useful piece of water.