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Chapter 2


ACROSS A CONTINENT


It is not easy to escape from a big city. An entire continent was
waiting to be traversed, and, for that reason, we lingered in New York
till the city felt so homelike that it seemed wrong to leave it. And
further, the more one studied it, the more grotesquely bad it grew--bad
in its paving, bad in its streets, bad in its street-police, and but for
the kindness of the tides would be worse than bad in its sanitary
arrangements. No one as yet has approached the management of New York in
a proper spirit; that is to say, regarding it as the shiftless outcome
of squalid barbarism and reckless extravagance. No one is likely to do
so, because reflections on the long, narrow pig-trough are construed as
malevolent attacks against the spirit and majesty of the great American
people, and lead to angry comparisons. Yet, if all the streets of London
were permanently up and all the lamps permanently down, this would not
prevent the New York streets taken in a lump from being first cousins to
a Zanzibar foreshore, or kin to the approaches of a Zulu kraal. Gullies,
holes, ruts, cobbles-stones awry, kerbstones rising from two to six
inches above the level of the slatternly pavement; tram-lines from two
to three inches above street level; building materials scattered half
across the street; lime, boards, cut stone, and ash-barrels generally
and generously everywhere; wheeled traffic taking its chances, dray
_versus_ brougham, at cross roads; sway-backed poles whittled and
unpainted; drunken lamp-posts with twisted irons; and, lastly, a
generous scatter of filth and more mixed stinks than the winter wind can
carry away, are matters which can be considered quite apart from the
'Spirit of Democracy' or 'the future of this great and growing country.'
In any other land, they would be held to represent slovenliness,
sordidness, and want of capacity. Here it is explained, not once but
many times, that they show the speed at which the city has grown and the
enviable indifference of her citizens to matters of detail. One of these
days, you are told, everything will be taken in hand and put straight.
The unvirtuous rulers of the city will be swept away by a cyclone, or a
tornado, or something big and booming, of popular indignation; everybody
will unanimously elect the right men, who will justly earn the enormous
salaries that are at present being paid to inadequate aliens for road
sweepings, and all will be well. At the same time the lawlessness
ingrained by governors among the governed during the last thirty, forty,
or it may be fifty years; the brutal levity of the public conscience in
regard to public duty; the toughening and suppling of public morals, and
the reckless disregard for human life, bred by impotent laws and
fostered by familiarity with needless accidents and criminal neglect,
will miraculously disappear. If the laws of cause and effect that
control even the freest people in the world say otherwise, so much the
worse for the laws. America makes her own. Behind her stands the ghost
of the most bloody war of the century caused in a peaceful land by long
temporising with lawlessness, by letting things slide, by shiftlessness
and blind disregard for all save the material need of the hour, till the
hour long conceived and let alone stood up full-armed, and men said,
'Here is an unforeseen crisis,' and killed each other in the name of God
for four years.

In a heathen land the three things that are supposed to be the pillars
of moderately decent government are regard for human life, justice,
criminal and civil, as far as it lies in man to do justice, and good
roads. In this Christian city they think lightly of the first--their own
papers, their own speech, and their own actions prove it; buy and sell
the second at a price openly and without shame; and are, apparently,
content to do without the third. One would almost expect racial sense of
humour would stay them from expecting only praise--slab, lavish, and
slavish--from the stranger within their gates. But they do not. If he
holds his peace, they forge tributes to their own excellence which they
put into his mouth, thereby treating their own land which they profess
to honour as a quack treats his pills. If he speaks--but you shall see
for yourselves what happens then. And they cannot see that by untruth
and invective it is themselves alone that they injure.

The blame of their city evils is not altogether with the gentlemen,
chiefly of foreign extraction, who control the city. These find a people
made to their hand--a lawless breed ready to wink at one evasion of the
law if they themselves may profit by another, and in their rare leisure
hours content to smile over the details of a clever fraud. Then, says
the cultured American, 'Give us time. Give us time, and we shall
arrive.' The otherwise American, who is aggressive, straightway proceeds
to thrust a piece of half-hanged municipal botch-work under the nose of
the alien as a sample of perfected effort. There is nothing more
delightful than to sit for a strictly limited time with a child who
tells you what he means to do when he is a man; but when that same
child, loud-voiced, insistent, unblushingly eager for praise, but
thin-skinned as the most morbid of hobbledehoys, stands about all your
ways telling you the same story in the same voice, you begin to yearn
for something made and finished--say Egypt and a completely dead mummy.
It is neither seemly nor safe to hint that the government of the largest
city in the States is a despotism of the alien by the alien for the
alien, tempered with occasional insurrections of the decent folk. Only
the Chinaman washes the dirty linen of other lands.

St. Paul, Minnesota.

Yes, it is very good to get away once more and pick up the old and ever
fresh business of the vagrant, loafing through new towns, learned in
the manners of dogs, babies, and perambulators half the world over, and
tracking the seasons by the up-growth of flowers in stranger-people's
gardens. St. Paul, standing at the barn-door of the Dakota and Minnesota
granaries, is all things to all men except to Minneapolis, eleven miles
away, whom she hates and by whom she is patronised. She calls herself
the capital of the North-West, the new North-West, and her citizens
wear, not only the tall silk hat of trade, but the soft slouch of the
West. She talks in another tongue than the New Yorker, and--sure sign
that we are far across the continent--her papers argue with the San
Francisco ones over rate wars and the competition of railway companies.
St. Paul has been established many years, and if one were reckless
enough to go down to the business quarters one would hear all about her
and more also. But the residential parts of the town are the crown of
it. In common with scores of other cities, broad-crowned suburbs--using
the word in the English sense--that make the stranger jealous. You get
here what you do not get in the city--well-paved or asphalted roads,
planted with trees, and trim side-walks, studded with houses of
individuality, not boorishly fenced off from each other, but standing
each on its plot of well-kept turf running down to the pavement. It is
always Sunday in these streets of a morning. The cable-car has taken the
men down town to business, the children are at school, and the big dogs,
three and a third to each absent child, lie nosing the winter-killed
grass and wondering when the shoots will make it possible for a
gentleman to take his spring medicine. In the afternoon, the children on
tricycles stagger up and down the asphalt with due proportion of big
dogs at each wheel; the cable-cars coming up hill begin to drop the men
each at his own door--the door of the house that he builded for himself
(though the architect incited him to that vile little attic tower and
useless loggia), and, naturally enough, twilight brings the lovers
walking two by two along the very quiet ways. You can tell from the
houses almost the exact period at which they were built, whether in the
jig-saw days, when if behoved respectability to use unlovely turned
rails and pierced gable-ends, or during the Colonial craze, which means
white paint and fluted pillars, or in the latest domestic era, a most
pleasant mixture, that is, of stained shingles, hooded dormer-windows,
cunning verandas, and recessed doors. Seeing these things, one begins to
understand why the Americans visiting England are impressed with the old
and not with the new. He is not much more than a hundred years ahead of
the English in design, comfort, and economy, and (this is most
important) labour-saving appliances in his house. From Newport to San
Diego you will find the same thing to-day.

Last tribute of respect and admiration. One little brown house at the
end of an avenue is shuttered down, and a doctor's buggy stands before
it. On the door a large blue and white label says--' Scarlet Fever.' Oh,
most excellent municipality of St. Paul. It is because of these little
things, and not by rowdying and racketing in public places, that a
nation becomes great and free and honoured. In the cars to-night they
will be talking wheat, girding at Minneapolis, and sneering at Duluth's
demand for twenty feet of water from Duluth to the Atlantic--matters of
no great moment compared with those streets and that label.


_A day later_.

'Five days ago there wasn't a foot of earth to see. It was just
naturally covered with snow,' says the conductor standing in the rear
car of the Great Northern train. He speaks as though the snow had hidden
something priceless. Here is the view: One railway track and a line of
staggering telegraph poles ending in a dot and a blur on the horizon. To
the left and right, a sweep as it were of the sea, one huge plain of
corn land waiting for the spring, dotted at rare intervals with wooden
farmhouses, patent self-reapers and binders almost as big as the houses,
ricks left over from last year's abundant harvest, and mottled here and
there with black patches to show that the early ploughing had begun. The
snow lies in a last few streaks and whirls by the track; from sky-line
to sky-line is black loam and prairie grass so dead that it seems as
though no one year's sun would waken it. This is the granary of the land
where the farmer who bears the burdens of the State--and who, therefore,
ascribes last year's bumper crop to the direct action of the McKinley
Bill--has, also, to bear the ghastly monotony of earth and sky. He keeps
his head, having many things to attend to, but his wife sometimes goes
mad as the women do in Vermont. There is little variety in Nature's big
wheat-field. They say that when the corn is in the ear, the wind,
chasing shadows across it for miles on miles, breeds as it were a
vertigo in those who must look and cannot turn their eyes away. And they
tell a nightmare story of a woman who lived with her husband for
fourteen years at an Army post in just such a land as this. Then they
were transferred to West Point, among the hills over the Hudson, and she
came to New York, but the terror of the tall houses grew upon her and
grew till she went down with brain fever, and the dread of her delirium
was that the terrible things would topple down and crush her. That is a
true story.

They work for harvest with steam-ploughs here. How could mere horses
face the endless furrows? And they attack the earth with toothed,
cogged, and spiked engines that would be monstrous in the shops, but
here are only speckles on the yellow grass. Even the locomotive is
cowed. A train of freight cars is passing along a line that comes out of
the blue and goes on till it meets the blue again. Elsewhere the train
would move off with a joyous, vibrant roar. Here it steals away down the
vista of the telegraph poles with an awed whisper--steals away and sinks
into the soil.

Then comes a town deep in black mud--a straggly, inch-thick plank town,
with dull red grain elevators. The open country refuses to be subdued
even for a few score rods. Each street ends in the illimitable open, and
it is as though the whole houseless, outside earth were racing through
it. Towards evening, under a gray sky, flies by an unframed picture of
desolation. In the foreground a farm wagon almost axle deep in mud, the
mire dripping from the slow-turning wheels as the man flogs the horses.
Behind him on a knoll of sodden soggy grass, fenced off by raw rails
from the landscape at large, are a knot of utterly uninterested citizens
who have flogged horses and raised wheat in their time, but to-day lie
under chipped and weather-worn wooden headstones. Surely burial here
must be more awful to the newly-made ghost than burial at sea.

There is more snow as we go north, and Nature is hard at work breaking
up the ground for the spring. The thaw has filled every depression with
a sullen gray-black spate, and out on the levels the water lies six
inches deep, in stretch upon stretch, as far as the eye can reach. Every
culvert is full, and the broken ice clicks against the wooden
pier-guards of the bridges. Somewhere in this flatness there is a
refreshing jingle of spurs along the cars, and a man of the Canadian
Mounted Police swaggers through with his black fur cap and the yellow
tab aside, his well-fitting overalls and his better set-up back. One
wants to shake hands with him because he is clean and does not slouch
nor spit, trims his hair, and walks as a man should. Then a
custom-house officer wants to know too much about cigars, whisky, and
Florida water. Her Majesty the Queen of England and Empress of India has
us in her keeping. Nothing has happened to the landscape, and Winnipeg,
which is, as it were, a centre of distribution for emigrants, stands up
to her knees in the water of the thaw. The year has turned in earnest,
and somebody is talking about the 'first ice-shove' at Montreal, 1300 or
1400 miles east.

They will not run trains on Sunday at Montreal, and this is Wednesday.
Therefore, the Canadian Pacific makes up a train for Vancouver at
Winnipeg. This is worth remembering, because few people travel in that
train, and you escape any rush of tourists running westward to catch the
Yokohama boat. The car is your own, and with it the service of the
porter. Our porter, seeing things were slack, beguiled himself with a
guitar, which gave a triumphal and festive touch to the journey,
ridiculously out of keeping with the view. For eight-and-twenty long
hours did the bored locomotive trail us through a flat and hairy land,
powdered, ribbed, and speckled with snow, small snow that drives like
dust-shot in the wind--the land of Assiniboia. Now and again, for no
obvious reason to the outside mind, there was a town. Then the towns
gave place to 'section so and so'; then there were trails of the
buffalo, where he once walked in his pride; then there was a mound of
white bones, supposed to belong to the said buffalo, and then the
wilderness took up the tale. Some of it was good ground, but most of it
seemed to have fallen by the wayside, and the tedium of it was eternal.

At twilight--an unearthly sort of twilight--there came another curious
picture. Thus--a wooden town shut in among low, treeless, rolling
ground, a calling river that ran unseen between scarped banks; barracks
of a detachment of mounted police, a little cemetery where ex-troopers
rested, a painfully formal public garden with pebble paths and foot-high
fir trees, a few lines of railway buildings, white women walking up and
down in the bitter cold with their bonnets off, some Indians in red
blanketing with buffalo horns for sale trailing along the platform, and,
not ten yards from the track, a cinnamon bear and a young grizzly
standing up with extended arms in their pens and begging for food. It
was strange beyond anything that this bald telling can suggest--opening
a door into a new world. The only commonplace thing about the spot was
its name--Medicine Hat, which struck me instantly as the only possible
name such a town could carry. This is that place which later became a
town; but I had seen it three years before when it was even smaller and
was reached by me in a freight-car, ticket unpaid for.

That next morning brought us the Canadian Pacific Railway as one reads
about it. No pen of man could do justice to the scenery there. The
guide-books struggle desperately with descriptions, adapted for summer
reading, of rushing cascades, lichened rocks, waving pines, and
snow-capped mountains; but in April these things are not there. The
place is locked up--dead as a frozen corpse. The mountain torrent is a
boss of palest emerald ice against the dazzle of the snow; the
pine-stumps are capped and hooded with gigantic mushrooms of snow; the
rocks are overlaid five feet deep; the rocks, the fallen trees, and the
lichens together, and the dumb white lips curl up to the track cut in
the side of the mountain, and grin there fanged with gigantic icicles.
You may listen in vain when the train stops for the least sign of breath
or power among the hills. The snow has smothered the rivers, and the
great looping trestles run over what might be a lather of suds in a huge
wash-tub. The old snow near by is blackened and smirched with the smoke
of locomotives, and its dulness is grateful to aching eyes. But the men
who live upon the line have no consideration for these things. At a
halting-place in a gigantic gorge walled in by the snows, one of them
reels from a tiny saloon into the middle of the track where half-a-dozen
dogs are chasing a pig off the metals. He is beautifully and eloquently
drunk. He sings, waves his hands, and collapses behind a shunting
engine, while four of the loveliest peaks that the Almighty ever moulded
look down upon him. The landslide that should have wiped that saloon
into kindlings has missed its mark and has struck a few miles down the
line. One of the hillsides moved a little in dreaming of the spring and
caught a passing freight train. Our cars grind cautiously by, for the
wrecking engine has only just come through. The deceased engine is
standing on its head in soft earth thirty or forty feet down the slide,
and two long cars loaded with shingles are dropped carelessly atop of
it. It looks so marvellously like a toy train flung aside by a child,
that one cannot realise what it means till a voice cries, 'Any one
killed?' The answer comes back, 'No; all jumped'; and you perceive with
a sense of personal insult that this slovenliness of the mountain is an
affair which may touch your own sacred self. In which case.... But the
train is out on a trestle, into a tunnel, and out on a trestle again. It
was here that every one began to despair of the line when it was under
construction, because there seemed to be no outlet. But a man came, as a
man always will, and put a descent thus and a curve in this manner, and
a trestle so; and behold, the line went on. It is in this place that we
heard the story of the Canadian Pacific Railway told as men tell a
many-times-repeated tale, with exaggerations and omissions, but an
imposing tale, none the less. In the beginning, when they would federate
the Dominion of Canada, it was British Columbia who saw objections to
coming in, and the Prime Minister of those days promised it for a bribe,
an iron band between tidewater and tidewater that should not break. Then
everybody laughed, which seems necessary to the health of most big
enterprises, and while they were laughing, things were being done. The
Canadian Pacific Railway was given a bit of a line here and a bit of a
line there and almost as much land as it wanted, and the laughter was
still going on when the last spike was driven between east and west, at
the very place where the drunken man sprawled behind the engine, and the
iron band ran from tideway to tideway as the Premier said, and people in
England said 'How interesting,' and proceeded to talk about the 'bloated
Army estimates.' Incidentally, the man who told us--he had nothing to do
with the Canadian Pacific Railway--explained how it paid the line to
encourage immigration, and told of the arrival at Winnipeg of a
train-load of Scotch crofters on a Sunday. They wanted to stop then and
there for the Sabbath--they and all the little stock they had brought
with them. It was the Winnipeg agent who had to go among them arguing
(he was Scotch too, and they could not quite understand it) on the
impropriety of dislocating the company's traffic. So their own minister
held a service in the station, and the agent gave them a good dinner,
cheering them in Gaelic, at which they wept, and they went on to settle
at Moosomin, where they lived happily ever afterwards. Of the manager,
the head of the line from Montreal to Vancouver, our companion spoke
with reverence that was almost awe. That manager lived in a palace at
Montreal, but from time to time he would sally forth in his special car
and whirl over his 3000 miles at 50 miles an hour. The regulation pace
is twenty-two, but he sells his neck with his head. Few drivers cared
for the honour of taking him over the road. A mysterious man he was, who
'carried the profile of the line in his head,' and, more than that, knew
intimately the possibilities of back country which he had never seen nor
travelled over. There is always one such man on every line. You can hear
similar tales from drivers on the Great Western in England or Eurasian
stationmasters on the big North-Western in India. Then a
fellow-traveller spoke, as many others had done, on the possibilities of
Canadian union with the United States; and his language was not the
language of Mr. Goldwin Smith. It was brutal in places. Summarised it
came to a pronounced objection to having anything to do with a land
rotten before it was ripe, a land with seven million negroes as yet
unwelded into the population, their race-type unevolved, and rather more
than crude notions on murder, marriage, and honesty. 'We've picked up
their ways of politics,' he said mournfully. 'That comes of living next
door to them; but I don't think we're anxious to mix up with their other
messes. They say they don't want us. They keep on saying it. There's a
nigger on the fence somewhere, or they wouldn't lie about it.'

'But does it follow that they are lying?'

'Sure. I've lived among 'em. They can't go straight. There's some dam'
fraud at the back of it.'

From this belief he would not be shaken. He had lived among
them--perhaps had been bested in trade. Let them keep themselves and
their manners and customs to their own side of the line, he said.

This is very sad and chilling. It seemed quite otherwise in New York,
where Canada was represented as a ripe plum ready to fell into Uncle
Sam's mouth when he should open it. The Canadian has no special love for
England--the Mother of Colonies has a wonderful gift for alienating the
affections of her own household by neglect--but, perhaps, he loves his
own country. We ran out of the snow through mile upon mile of
snow-sheds, braced with twelve-inch beams, and planked with two-inch
planking. In one place a snow slide had caught just the edge of a shed
and scooped it away as a knife scoops cheese. High up the hills men had
built diverting barriers to turn the drifts, but the drifts had swept
over everything, and lay five deep on the top of the sheds. When we woke
it was on the banks of the muddy Fraser River and the spring was
hurrying to meet us. The snow had gone; the pink blossoms of the wild
currant were open, the budding alders stood misty green against the blue
black of the pines, the brambles on the burnt stumps were in tenderest
leaf, and every moss on every stone was this year's work, fresh from the
hand of the Maker. The land opened into clearings of soft black earth.
At one station a hen had laid an egg and was telling the world about it.
The world answered with a breath of real spring--spring that flooded the
stuffy car and drove us out on the platform to snuff and sing and
rejoice and pluck squashy green marsh-flags and throw them at the
colts, and shout at the wild duck that rose from a jewel-green lakelet.
God be thanked that in travel one can follow the year! This, my spring,
I lost last November in New Zealand. Now I shall hold her fast through
Japan and the summer into New Zealand again.

Here are the waters of the Pacific, and Vancouver (completely destitute
of any decent defences) grown out of all knowledge in the last three
years. At the railway wharf, with never a gun to protect her, lies the
_Empress of India_--the Japan boat--and what more auspicious name could
you wish to find at the end of one of the strong chains of empire?

Rudyard Kipling

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