Letters of Travel (1892-1913)
Part 2 out of 4
architect, can lay his bare arms across the bar and sell them to the
highest bidder, for the houses are coming up like toadstools after rain.
The men who do not build cheer those who do, in that building means
backing your belief in your town--yours to you and peculiarly. Confound
all other towns whatsoever. Behind the crowd of business men the weekly
town paper plays as a stockwhip plays on a mob of cattle. There is
honour, heaped, extravagant, imperial for the good--the employer of
labour, the builder of stores, the spender of money; there is abuse,
savage and outrageous, for the bad, the man who 'buys out of the town,'
the man who intends to go, the sitter on the fence; with persuasion and
invitation in prose, verse, and zincograph for all that outside world
which prefers to live in cities other than Ours.
Now the editor, as often as not, begins as a mercenary and ends as a
patriot. This, too, is all of a piece with human nature. A few years
later, if Providence is good, comes the return for judicious investment.
Perhaps the town has stood the test of boom, and that which was
clapboard is now Milwaukee brick or dressed stone, vile in design but
permanent. The shanty hotel is the Something House, with accommodation
for two hundred guests. The manager who served you in his shirt-sleeves
as his own hotel clerk, is gorgeous in broadcloth, and needs to be
reminded of the first meeting. Suburban villas more or less adorn the
flats, from which the liveliest fancy (and fancy was free in the early
days) hung back. Horse-cars jingle where the prairie schooner used to
stick fast in the mud-hole, scooped to that end, opposite the saloon;
and there is a Belt Electric Service paying fabulous dividends. Then, do
you, feeling older than Methuselah and twice as important, go forth and
patronise things in general, while the manager tells you exactly what
sort of millionaire you would have been if you had 'stayed by the town.'
Or else--the bottom has tumbled out of the boom, and the town new made
is dead--dead as a young man's corpse laid out in the morning. Success
was not justified by success. Of ten thousand not three hundred remain,
and these live in huts on the outskirts of the brick streets. The hotel,
with its suites of musty rooms, is a big tomb; the factory chimneys are
cold; the villas have no glass in them, and the fire-weed glows in the
centre of the driveways, mocking the arrogant advertisements in the
empty shops. There is nothing to do except to catch trout in the stream
that was to have been defiled by the city sewage. A two-pounder lies
fanning himself just in the cool of the main culvert, where the alders
have crept up to the city wall. You pay your money and, more or less,
you take your choice.
By the time that man has seen these things and a few others that go
with a boom he may say that he has lived, and talk with his enemies in
the gate. He has heard the Arabian Nights retold and knows the inward
kernel of that romance, which some? little folk say is vanished. Here
they lie in their false teeth, for Cortes is not dead, nor Drake, and
Sir Philip Sidney dies every few months if you know where to look. The
adventurers and captains courageous of old have only changed their dress
a little and altered their employment to suit the world in which they
move. Clive came down from Lobengula's country a few months ago
protesting that there was an empire there, and finding very few that
believed. Hastings studied a map of South Africa in a corrugated iron
hut at Johannesburg ten years ago. Since then he has altered the map
considerably to the advantage of the Empire, but the heart of the Empire
is set on ballot-boxes and small lies. The illustrious Don Quixote
to-day lives on the north coast of Australia where he has found the
treasure of a sunken Spanish galleon. Now and again he destroys black
fellows who hide under his bed to spear him. Young Hawkins, with a still
younger Boscawen for his second, was till last year chasing slave-dhows
round Tajurrah; they have sent him now to the Zanzibar coast to be
grilled into an admiral; and the valorous Sandoval has been holding the
'Republic' of Mexico by the throat any time these fourteen years gone.
The others, big men all and not very much afraid of responsibility, are
selling horses, breaking trails, drinking sangaree, running railways
beyond the timberline, swimming rivers, blowing up tree-stumps, and
making cities where no cities were, in all the five quarters of the
world. Only people will not believe this when you tell them. They are
too near things and a great deal too well fed. So they say of the most
cold-blooded realism: 'This is romance. How interesting!' And of
over-handled, thumb-marked realism: 'This is indeed romance!' It is the
next century that, looking over its own, will see the heroes of our time
Meantime this earth of ours--we hold a fair slice of it so far--is full
of wonders and miracles and mysteries and marvels, and, in default, it
is good to go up and down seeing and hearing tell of them all.
ON ONE SIDE ONLY
NEW OXFORD, U.S.A., _June-July_ 1892.
'The truth is,' said the man in the train, 'that we live in a tropical
country for three months of the year, only we won't recognise. Look at
this.' He handed over a long list of deaths from heat that enlivened the
newspapers. All the cities where men live at breaking-strain were
sending in their butcher-bills, and the papers of the cities, themselves
apostles of the Gospel of Rush, were beseeching their readers to keep
cool and not to overwork themselves while the hot wave was upon them.
The rivers were patched and barred with sun-dried pebbles; the logs and
loggers were drought-bound somewhere up the Connecticut; and the grass
at the side of the track was burned in a hundred places by the sparks
from locomotives. Men--hatless, coatless, and gasping--lay in the shade
of that station where only a few months ago the glass stood at 30 below
zero. Now the readings were 98 degrees in the shade. Main Street--do you
remember Main Street of a little village locked up in the snow this
spring?--had given up the business of life, and an American flag
with some politician's name printed across the bottom hung down across
the street as stiff as a board. There were men with fans and alpaca
coats curled up in splint chairs in the verandah of the one hotel--among
them an ex-President of the United States. He completed the impression
that the furniture of the entire country had been turned out of doors
for summer cleaning in the absence of all the inhabitants. Nothing looks
so hopelessly 'ex' as a President 'returned to stores,' The stars and
stripes signified that the Presidential Campaign had opened in Main
Street--opened and shut up again. Politics evaporate at summer heat when
all hands are busy with the last of the hay, and, as the formers put it,
'Vermont's bound to go Republican.' The custom of the land is to drag
the scuffle and dust of an election over several months--to the
improvement of business and manners; but the noise of that war comes
faintly up the valley of the Connecticut and is lost among the fiddling
of the locusts. Their music puts, as it were, a knife edge upon the heat
of the day. In truth, it is a tropical country for the time being.
Thunder-storms prowl and growl round the belted hills, spit themselves
away in a few drops of rain, and leave the air more dead than before. In
the woods, where even the faithful springs are beginning to run low, the
pines and balsams have thrown out all their fragrance upon the heat and
wait for the wind to bring news of the rain. The clematis, wild carrot,
and all the gipsy-flowers camped by sufferance between fence line and
road net are masked in white dust, and the golden-rod of the pastures
that are burned to flax-colour burns too like burnished brass. A pillar
of dust on the long hog-back of the road across the hills shows where a
team is lathering between farms, and the roofs of the wooden houses
flicker in the haze of their own heat. Overhead the chicken-hawk is the
only creature at work, and his shrill kite-like call sends the gaping
chickens from the dust-bath in haste to their mothers. The red squirrel
as usual feigns business of importance among the butternuts, but this is
pure priggishness. When the passer-by is gone he ceases chattering and
climbs back to where the little breezes can stir his tail-plumes. From
somewhere under the lazy fold of a meadow comes the drone of a
mowing-machine among the hay--its _whurr-oo_ and the grunt of the tired
[Footnote 2: See 'In Sight of Monadnock.']
Houses are only meant to eat and sleep in. The rest of life is lived at
full length in the verandah. When traffic is brisk three whole teams
will pass that verandah in one day, and it is necessary to exchange news
about the weather and the prospects for oats. When oats are in there
will be slack time on the farm, and the farmers will seriously think of
doing the hundred things that they have let slide during the summer.
They will undertake this and that, 'when they get around to it.' The
phrase translated is the exact equivalent to the _manana_ of the
Spaniard, the _kul hojaiga_ of Upper India, the _yuroshii_ of the
Japanese, and the long drawled _taihod_ of the Maori. The only person
who 'gets around' in this weather is the summer boarder--the refugee
from the burning cities of the Plain, and she is generally a woman. She
walks, and botanizes, and kodaks, and strips the bark off the white
birch to make blue-ribboned waste-paper baskets, and the farmer regards
her with wonder. More does he wonder still at the city clerk in a
blazer, who has two weeks' holiday in the year and, apparently,
unlimited money, which he earns in the easiest possible way by 'sitting
at a desk and writing,' The farmer's wife sees the fashions of the
summer boarder, and between them man and woman get a notion of the
beauties of city life for which their children may live to blame them.
The blazer and the town-made gown are innocent recruiting sergeants for
the city brigades; and since one man's profession is ever a mystery to
his fellow, blazer and gown believe that the farmer must be happy and
content. A summer resort is one of the thousand windows whence to watch
the thousand aspects of life in the Atlantic States. Remember that
between June and September it is the desire of all who can to get away
from the big cities--not on account of wantonness, as people leave
London--but because of actual heat. So they get away in their millions
with their millions--the wives of the rich men for five clear months,
the others for as long as they can; and, like drawing like, they make
communities set by set, breed by breed, division by division, over the
length and breadth of the land--from Maine and the upper reaches of the
Saguenay, through the mountains and hot springs of half-a-dozen
interior States, out and away to Sitka in steamers. Then they spend
money on hotel bills, among ten thousand farms, on private companies who
lease and stock land for sporting purposes, on yachts and canoes,
bicycles, rods, chalets, cottages, reading circles, camps, tents, and
all the luxuries they know. But the luxury of rest most of them do not
know; and the telephone and telegraph are faithfully dragged after them,
lest their men-folk should for a moment forget the ball and chain at
For sadness with laughter at bottom there are few things to compare with
the sight of a coat-less, muddy-booted, millionaire, his hat adorned
with trout-flies, and a string of small fish in his hand, clawing wildly
at the telephone of some back-of-beyond 'health resort.' Thus:
'Hello! Hello! Yes. Who's there? Oh, all right. Go ahead. Yes, it's me!
Hey, what? Repeat. Sold for _how_ much? Forty-four and a half? Repeat.
No! I _told_ you to hold on. What? What? _Who_ bought at that? Say, hold
a minute. Cable the other side. No. Hold on. I'll come down. (_Business
with watch_.) Tell Schaefer I'll see him to-morrow.' (_Over his shoulder
to his wife, who wears half-hoop diamond rings at_ 10 A.M.) 'Lizzie,
where's my grip? I've got to go down.'
And he goes down to eat in a hotel and sleep in his shut-up house. Men
are as scarce at most of the summer places as they are in Indian
hill-stations in late April. The women tell you that they can't get
away, and if they did they would only be miserable to get back. Now
whether this wholesale abandonment of husbands by wives is wholesome let
those who know the beauties of the Anglo-Indian system settle for
That both men and women need rest very badly a glance at the crowded
hotel tables makes plain--so plain, indeed, that the foreigner who has
not been taught that fuss and worry are in themselves honourable wishes
sometimes he could put the whole unrestful crowd to sleep for seventeen
hours a day. I have inquired of not less than five hundred men and women
in various parts of the States why they broke down and looked so gash.
And the men said: 'If you don't keep up with the procession in America
you are left'; and the women smiled an evil smile and answered that no
outsider yet had discovered the real cause of their worry and strain, or
why their lives were arranged to work with the largest amount of
friction in the shortest given time. Now, the men can be left to their
own folly, but the cause of the women's trouble has been revealed to me.
It is the thing called 'Help' which is no help. In the multitude of
presents that the American man has given to the American woman (for
details see daily papers) he has forgotten or is unable to give her good
servants, and that sordid trouble runs equally through the household of
the millionaire or the flat of the small city man. 'Yes, it's easy
enough to laugh,' said one woman passionately, 'we are worn out, and our
children are worn out too, and we're always worrying, I know it. What
can we do? If you stay here you'll know that this is the land of all
the luxuries and none of the necessities. You'll know and then you won't
laugh. You'll know why women are said to take their husbands to
boarding-houses and never have homes. You'll know what an Irish Catholic
means. The men won't get up and attend to these things, but _we_ would.
If _we_ had female suffrage, we'd shut the door to _all_ the Irish and
throw it open to _all_ the Chinese, and let the women have a little
protection.' It was the cry of a soul worn thin with exasperation, but
it was truth. To-day I do not laugh any more at the race that depends on
inefficient helot races for its inefficient service. When next you,
housekeeping in England, differ with the respectable, amiable,
industrious sixteen-pound maid, who wears a cap and says 'Ma'am,'
remember the pauper labour of America--the wives of the sixty million
kings who have no subjects. No man could get a thorough knowledge of the
problem in one lifetime, but he could guess at the size and the import
of it after he has descended into the arena and wrestled with the Swede
and the Dane and the German and the unspeakable Celt. Then he perceives
how good for the breed it must be that a man should thresh himself to
pieces in naked competition with his neighbour while his wife struggles
unceasingly over primitive savagery in the kitchen. In India sometimes
when a famine is at hand the life of the land starts up before your eyes
in all its bareness and bitter stress. Here, in spite of the trimmings
and the frillings, it refuses to be subdued and the clamour and the
clatter of it are loud above all other sounds--as sometimes the thunder
of disorganised engines stops conversations along the decks of a liner,
and in the inquiring eyes of the passengers you read the question--'This
thing is made and paid to bear us to port quietly. Why does it not do
so?' Only here, the rattle of the badly-put-together machine is always
in the ears, though men and women run about with labour-saving
appliances and gospels of 'power through repose,' tinkering and oiling
and making more noise. The machine is new. Some day it is going to be
the finest machine in the world. To the ranks of the amateur artificers,
therefore, are added men with notebooks tapping at every nut and
bolthead, fiddling with the glands, registering revolutions, and crying
out from time to time that this or that is or is not 'distinctively
American.' Meantime, men and women die unnecessarily in the wheels, and
they are said to have fallen 'in the battle of life.'
The God Who sees us all die knows that there is far too much of that
battle, but we do not, and so continue worshipping the knife that cuts
and the wheel that breaks us, as blindly as the outcast sweeper worships
Lal-Beg the Glorified Broom that is the incarnation of his craft. But
the sweeper has sense enough not to kill himself, and to be proud of it,
A foreigner can do little good by talking of these things; for the same
lean dry blood that breeds the fever of unrest breeds also the savage
parochial pride that squeals under a steady stare or a pointed finger.
Among themselves the people of the Eastern cities admit that they and
their womenfolk overwork grievously and go to pieces very readily, and
that the consequences for the young stock are unpleasant indeed; but
before the stranger they prefer to talk about the future of their mighty
continent (which has nothing to do with the case) and to call aloud on
Baal of the Dollars--to catalogue their lines, mines, telephones, banks,
and cities, and all the other shells, buttons, and counters that they
have made their Gods over them. Now a nation does not progress upon its
brain-pan, as some books would have us believe, but upon its belly as
did the Serpent of old; and in the very long run the work of the brain
comes to be gathered in by a slow-footed breed that have unimaginative
stomachs and the nerves that know their place.
All this is very consoling from the alien's point of view. He perceives,
with great comfort, that out of strain is bred impatience in the shape
of a young bundle of nerves, who is about as undisciplined an imp as the
earth can show. Out of impatience, grown up, habituated to violent and
ugly talk, and the impatience and recklessness of his neighbours, is
begotten lawlessness, encouraged by laziness and suppressed by violence
when it becomes insupportable. Out of lawlessness is bred rebellion (and
that fruit has been tasted once already), and out of rebellion comes
profit to those who wait. He hears of the power of the People who,
through rank slovenliness, neglect to see that their laws are soberly
enforced from the beginning; and these People, not once or twice in a
year, but many times within a month, go out in the open streets and, with
a maximum waste of power and shouting, strangle other people with ropes.
They are, he is told, law-abiding citizens who have executed 'the will
of the people'; which is as though a man should leave his papers
unsorted for a year and then smash his desk with an axe, crying, 'Am I
not orderly?' He hears lawyers, otherwise sane and matured, defend this
pig-jobbing murder on the grounds that 'the People stand behind the
Law'--the law that they never administered. He sees a right, at present
only half--but still half--conceded to anticipate the law in one's own
interests; and nervous impatience (always nerves) forejudging the
suspect in gaol, the prisoner in the dock, and the award between nation
and nation ere it is declared. He knows that the maxim in London,
Yokohama, and Hongkong in doing business with the pure-bred American is
to keep him waiting, for the reason that forced inaction frets the man
to a lather, as standing in harness frets a half-broken horse. He comes
across a thousand little peculiarities of speech, manner, and
thought--matters of nerve and stomach developed by everlasting
friction--and they are all just the least little bit in the world
lawless. No more so than the restless clicking together of horns in a
herd of restless cattle, but certainly no less. They are all good--good
for those who wait.
On the other hand, to consider the matter more humanly, there are
thousands of delightful men and women going to pieces for the pitiful
reason that if they do not keep up with the procession, 'they are left.'
And they are left--in clothes that have no back to them, among mounds of
smilax. And young men--chance-met in the streets, talk to you about
their nerves which are things no young man should know anything about;
and the friends of your friends go down with nervous prostration, and
the people overheard in the trains talk about their nerves and the
nerves of their relatives; and the little children must needs have their
nerves attended to ere their milk-teeth are shed, and the middle-aged
women and the middle-aged men have got them too, and the old men lose
the dignity of their age in an indecent restlessness, and the
advertisements in the papers go to show that this sweeping list is no
lie. Atop of the fret and the stampede, the tingling self-consciousness
of a new people makes them take a sort of perverted pride in the futile
racket that sends up the death-rate--a child's delight in the blaze and
the dust of the March of Progress. Is it not 'distinctively American'?
It is, and it is not. If the cities were all America, as they pretend,
fifty years would see the March of Progress brought to a standstill, as
a locomotive is stopped by heated bearings....
Down in the meadow the mowing-machine has checked, and the horses are
shaking themselves. The last of the sunlight leaves the top of
Monadnock, and four miles away Main Street lights her electric lamps. It
is band-night in Main Street, and the folks from Putney, from
Marlboro', from Guildford, and even New Fane will drive in their
well-filled waggons to hear music and look at the Ex-President. Over the
shoulder of the meadow two men come up very slowly, their hats off and
their arms swinging loosely at their sides. They do not hurry, they have
not hurried, and they never will hurry, for they are of country--bankers
of the flesh and blood of the ever bankrupt cities. Their children may
yet be pale summer boarders; as the boarders, city-bred weeds, may take
over their farms. From the plough to the pavement goes man, but to the
plough he returns at last.
'Going to supper?'
'Ye-ep,' very slowly across the wash of the uncut grass.
'Say, that corncrib wants painting.'
''Do that when we get around to it.'
They go off through the dusk, without farewell or salutation steadily as
their own steers. And there are a few millions of them--unhandy men to
cross in their ways, set, silent, indirect in speech, and as
impenetrable as that other Eastern fanner who is the bedrock of another
land. They do not appear in the city papers, they are not much heard in
the streets, and they tell very little in the outsider's estimate of
And _they_ are the American.
LEAVES FROM A WINTER NOTE-BOOK
We had walked abreast of the year from the very beginning, and that was
when the first blood-root came up between the patches of April snow,
while yet the big drift at the bottom of the meadow held fast. In the
shadow of the woods and under the blown pine-needles, clots of snow lay
till far into May, but neither the season nor the flowers took any note
of them, and, before we were well sure Winter had gone, the lackeys of
my Lord Baltimore in their new liveries came to tell us that Summer was
in the valley, and please might they nest at the bottom of the garden?
Followed, Summer, angry, fidgety, and nervous, with the corn and tobacco
to ripen in five short months, the pastures to reclothe, and the fallen
leaves to hide away under new carpets. Suddenly, in the middle of her
work, on a stuffy-still July day, she called a wind out of the
Northwest, a wind blown under an arch of steel-bellied clouds, a wicked
bitter wind with a lacing of hail to it, a wind that came and was gone
in less than ten minutes, but blocked the roads with fallen trees,
toppled over a barn, and--blew potatoes out of the ground! When that was
done, a white cloud shaped like a dumb-bell whirled down the valley
across the evening blue, roaring and twisting and twisting and roaring
all alone by itself. A West Indian hurricane could not have been quicker
on its feet than our little cyclone, and when the house rose a-tiptoe,
like a cockerel in act to crow, and a sixty-foot elm went by the board,
and that which had been a dusty road became a roaring torrent all in
three minutes, we felt that the New England summer had creole blood in
her veins. She went away, red-faced and angry to the last, slamming all
the doors of the hills behind her, and Autumn, who is a lady, took
No pen can describe the turning of the leaves--the insurrection of the
tree-people against the waning year. A little maple began it, flaming
blood-red of a sudden where he stood against the dark green of a
pine-belt. Next morning there was an answering signal from the swamp
where the sumacs grow. Three days later, the hill-sides as far as the
eye could range were afire, and the roads paved, with crimson and gold.
Then a wet wind blew, and ruined all the uniforms of that gorgeous army;
and the oaks, who had held themselves in reserve, buckled on their dull
and bronzed cuirasses and stood it out stiffly to the last blown leaf,
till nothing remained but pencil-shading of bare boughs, and one could
see into the most private heart of the woods.
Frost may be looked for till the middle of May and after the middle of
September, so Summer has little time for enamel-work or leaf-embroidery.
Her sisters bring the gifts--Spring, wind-flowers, Solomon's-Seal,
Dutchman's-breeches, Quaker-ladies, and trailing arbutus, that smells as
divinely as the true May. Autumn has golden-rod and all the tribe of
asters, pink, lilac, and creamy white, by the double armful. When these
go the curtain comes down, and whatever Powers shift the scenery behind,
work without noise. In tropic lands you can hear the play of growth and
decay at the back of the night-silences. Even in England the tides of
the winter air have a set and a purpose; but here they are dumb
altogether. The very last piece of bench-work this season was the
trailed end of a blackberry-vine, most daringly conventionalised in
hammered iron, flung down on the frosty grass an instant before people
came to look. The blue bloom of the furnace was still dying along the
central rib, and the side-sprays were cherry red, even as they had been
lifted from the charcoal. It was a detail, evidently, of some invisible
gate in the woods; but we never found that workman, though he had left
the mark of his cloven foot as plainly as any strayed deer. In a week
the heavy frosts with scythes and hammers had slashed and knocked down
all the road-side growth and the kindly bushes that veil the drop off
the unfenced track.
There the seasons stopped awhile. Autumn was gone, Winter was not. We
had Time dealt out to us--mere, clear, fresh Time--grace-days to enjoy.
The white wooden farm-houses were banked round two feet deep with dried
leaves or earth, and the choppers went out to get ready next year's
stores of wood. Now, chopping is an art, and the chopper in all respects
an artist. He makes his own axe-helve, and for each man there is but one
perfect piece of wood in all the world. This he never finds, but the
likest substitute is trimmed and balanced and poised to that ideal. One
man I know has evolved very nearly the weapon of Umslopogaas. It is
almost straight, lapped at the butt with leather, amazingly springy, and
carries a two-edged blade for splitting and chopping. If his Demon be
with him--and what artist can answer for all his moods?--he will cause a
tree to fall upon any stick or stone that you choose, uphill or down, to
the right or to the left. Artist-like, however, he explains that that is
nothing. Any fool can play with a tree in the open, but it needs the
craftsman to bring a tree down in thick timber and do no harm. To see an
eighty-foot maple, four feet in the butt, dropped, deftly as a fly is
cast, in the only place where it will not outrage the feelings and swipe
off the tops of fifty juniors, is a revelation. White pine, hemlock, and
spruce share this country with maples, black and white birches, and
beech. Maple seems to have few preferences, and the white birches
straggle and shiver on the outskirts of every camp; but the pines hold
together in solid regiments, sending out skirmishers to invade a
neglected pasture on the first opportunity. There is no overcoat warmer
than the pines in a gale when the woods for miles round are singing like
cathedral organs, and the first snow of the year powders the
The mosses and lichens, green, sulphur, and amber, stud the copper floor
of needles, where the feathery ground-pine runs aimlessly to and fro
along the ground, spelling out broken words of half-forgotten charms.
There are checker-berries on the outskirts of the wood, where the
partridge (he is a ruffed grouse really) dines, and by the deserted
logging-roads toadstools of all colours sprout on the decayed stumps.
Wherever a green or blue rock lifts from the hillside, the needles have
been packed and matted round its base, till, when the sunshine catches
them, stone and setting together look no meaner than turquoise in dead
gold. The woods are full of colour, belts and blotches of it, the
colours of the savage--red, yellow, and blue. Yet in their lodges there
is very little life, for the wood-people do not readily go into the
shadows. The squirrels have their business among the beeches and
hickories by the road-side, where they can watch the traffic and talk.
We have no gray ones hereabouts (they are good to eat and suffer for
it), but five reds live in a hickory hard by, and no weather puts them
to sleep. The wood-chuck, a marmot and a strategist, makes his burrow in
the middle of a field, where he must see you ere you see him. Now and
again a dog manages to cut him off his base, and the battle is worth
crossing fields to watch. But the woodchuck turned in long ago, and will
not be out till April. The coon lives--well, no one seems to know
particularly where Brer Coon lives, but when the Hunter's Moon is large
and full he descends into the corn-lands, and men chase him with dogs
for his fur, which makes the finest kind of overcoat, and his flesh,
which tastes like chicken. He cries at night sorrowfully as though a
child were lost.
They seem to kill, for one reason or other, everything that moves in
this land. Hawks, of course; eagles for their rarity; foxes for their
pelts; red-shouldered blackbirds and Baltimore orioles because they are
pretty, and the other small things for sport--French fashion. You can
get a rifle of a kind for twelve shillings, and if your neighbour be
fool enough to post notices forbidding 'hunting' and fishing, you
naturally seek his woods. So the country is very silent and unalive.
There are, however, bears within a few miles, as you will see from this
notice, picked up at the local tobacconist's:
JOHNNY GET YOUR GUN! BEAR HUNT!
As bears are too numerous in the town of Peltyville Corners, Vt., the
hunters of the surrounding towns are invited to participate in a grand
hunt to be held on Blue Mountains in the town of Peltyville Corners,
Vt., Wednesday, Nov. 8th, if pleasant. If not, first fine day. Come one,
They went, but it was the bear that would not participate. The notice
was printed at somebody's Electric Print Establishment. Queer mixture,
The bear does not run large as a rule, but he has a weakness for swine
and calves which brings punishment. Twelve hours' rail and a little
marching take you up to the moose-country; and twenty-odd miles from
here as the crow flies you come to virgin timber, where trappers live,
and where there is a Lost Pond that many have found once but can never
Men, who are of one blood with sheep, have followed their friends and
the railway along the river valleys where the towns are. Across the
hills the inhabitants are few, and, outside their State, little known.
They withdraw from society in November if they live on the uplands,
coming down in May as the snow gives leave. Not much more than a
generation ago these farms made their own clothes, soap, and candles,
and killed their own meat thrice a year, beef, veal, and pig, and sat
still between-times. Now they buy shop-made clothes, patent soaps, and
kerosene; and it is among their tents that the huge red and gilt
Biographies of Presidents, and the twenty-pound family Bibles, with
illuminated marriage-registers, mourning-cards, baptismal certificates,
and hundreds of genuine steel-engravings, sell best. Here, too, off the
main-travelled roads, the wandering quack--Patent Electric Pills, nerve
cures, etc.--divides the field with the seed and fruit man and the
seller of cattle-boluses. They dose themselves a good deal, I fancy,
for it is a poor family that does not know all about nervous
prostration. So the quack drives a pair of horses and a gaily-painted
waggon with a hood, and sometimes takes his wife with him. Once only
have I met a pedlar afoot. He was an old man, shaken with palsy, and he
pushed a thing exactly like a pauper's burial-cart, selling pins, tape,
scents, and flavourings. You helped yourself, for his hands had no
direction, and he told a long tale in which the deeding away of a farm
to one of his family was mixed up with pride at the distances he still
could cover daily. As much as six miles sometimes. He was no Lear, as
the gift of the farm might suggest, but sealed of the tribe of the
Wandering Jew--a tremulous old giddy-gaddy. There are many such rovers,
gelders of colts and the like, who work a long beat, south to Virginia
almost, and north to the frontier, paying with talk and gossip for their
Yet tramps are few, and that is well, for the American article answers
almost exactly to the vagrant and criminal tribes of India, being a
predatory ruffian who knows too much to work. 'Bad place to beg in after
dark--on a farm--very--is Vermont. Gypsies pitch their camp by the river
in the spring, and cooper horses in the manner of their tribe. They have
the gypsy look and some of the old gypsy names, but say that they are
largely mixed with Gentile blood.
Winter has chased all these really interesting people south, and in a
few weeks, if we have anything of a snow, the back farms will be
unvisited save by the doctor's hooded sleigh. It is no child's play to
hold a practice here through the winter months, when the drifts are
really formed, and a pair can drop in up to their saddle-pads. Four
horses a day some of them use, and use up--for they are good men.
Now in the big silence of the snow is born, perhaps, not a little of
that New England conscience which her children write about. There is
much time to think, and thinking is a highly dangerous business.
Conscience, fear, undigested reading, and, it may be, not too well
cooked food, have full swing. A man, and more particularly a woman, can
easily hear strange voices--the Word of the Lord rolling between the
dead hills; may see visions and dream dreams; get revelations and an
outpouring of the spirit, and end (such things have been) lamentably
enough in those big houses by the Connecticut River which have been
tenderly christened The Retreat. Hate breeds as well as religion--the
deep, instriking hate between neighbours, that is born of a hundred
little things added up, brooded over, and hatched by the stove when two
or three talk together in the long evenings. It would be very
interesting to get the statistics of revivals and murders, and find how
many of them have been committed in the spring. But for undistracted
people winter is one long delight of the eye. In other lands one knows
the snow as a nuisance that comes and goes, and is sorely man-handled
and messed at the last. Here it lies longer on the ground than any
crop--from November to April sometimes--and for three months life goes
to the tune of sleigh-bells, which are not, as a Southern visitor once
hinted, ostentation, but safeguards. The man who drives without them is
not loved. The snow is a faithful barometer, foretelling good sleighing
or stark confinement to barracks. It is all the manure the stony
pastures receive; it cloaks the ground and prevents the frost bursting
pipes; it is the best--I had almost written the only--road-maker in the
States. On the other side it can rise up in the night and bid the people
sit still as the Egyptians. It can stop mails; wipe out all time-tables;
extinguish the lamps of twenty towns, and kill man within sight of his
own door-step or hearing of his cattle unfed. No one who has been
through even so modified a blizzard as New England can produce talks
lightly of the snow. Imagine eight-and-forty hours of roaring wind, the
thermometer well down towards zero, scooping and gouging across a
hundred miles of newly fallen snow. The air is full of stinging shot,
and at ten yards the trees are invisible. The foot slides on a reef,
polished and black as obsidian, where the wind has skinned an exposed
corner of road down to the dirt ice of early winter. The next step ends
hip-deep and over, for here an unseen wall is banking back the rush of
the singing drifts. A scarped slope rises sheer across the road. The
wind shifts a point or two, and all sinks down, like sand in the
hour-glass, leaving a pot-hole of whirling whiteness. There is a lull,
and you can see the surface of the fields settling furiously in one
direction--a tide that spurts from between the tree-boles. The hollows
of the pasture fill while you watch; empty, fill, and discharge anew.
The rock-ledges show the bare flank of a storm-chased liner for a
moment, and whitening, duck under. Irresponsible snow-devils dance by
the lee of a barn where three gusts meet, or stagger out into the open
till they are cut down by the main wind. At the worst of the storm there
is neither Heaven nor Earth, but only a swizzle into which a man may be
brewed. Distances grow to nightmare scale, and that which in the summer
was no more than a minute's bare-headed run, is half an hour's gasping
struggle, each foot won between the lulls. Then do the heavy-timbered
barns talk like ships in a cross-sea, beam working against beam. The
winter's hay is ribbed over with long lines of snow dust blown between
the boards, and far below in the byre the oxen clash their horns and
The next day is blue, breathless, and most utterly still. The farmers
shovel a way to their beasts, bind with chains their large ploughshares
to their heaviest wood-sled and take of oxen as many as Allah has given
them. These they drive, and the dragging share makes a furrow in which a
horse can walk, and the oxen, by force of repeatedly going in up to
their bellies, presently find foothold. The finished road is a deep
double gutter between three-foot walls of snow, where, by custom, the
heavier vehicle has the right of way. The lighter man when he turns out
must drop waist-deep and haul his unwilling beast into the drift,
leaving Providence to steady the sleigh.
In the towns, where they choke and sputter and gasp, the big snow turns
to horsepondine. With us it stays still: but wind, sun, and rain get to
work upon it, lest the texture and colour should not change daily. Rain
makes a granulated crust over all, in which white shagreen the trees are
faintly reflected. Heavy mists go up and down, and create a sort of
mirage, till they settle and pack round the iron-tipped hills, and then
you know how the moon must look to an inhabitant of it. At twilight,
again, the beaten-down ridges and laps and folds of the uplands take on
the likeness of wet sand--some huge and melancholy beach at the world's
end--and when day meets night it is all goblin country. To westward; the
last of the spent day--rust-red and pearl, illimitable levels of shore
waiting for the tide to turn again. To eastward, black night among the
valleys, and on the rounded hill slopes a hard glaze that is not so much
light as snail-slime from the moon. Once or twice perhaps in the winter
the Northern Lights come out between the moon and the sun, so that to
the two unearthly lights is added the leap and flare of the Aurora
In January or February come the great ice-storms, when every branch,
blade, and trunk is coated with frozen rain, so that you can touch
nothing truly. The spikes of the pines are sunk into pear-shaped
crystals, and each fence-post is miraculously hilted with diamonds. If
you bend a twig, the icing cracks like varnish, and a half-inch branch
snaps off at the lightest tap. If wind and sun open the day together,
the eye cannot look steadily at the splendour of this jewelry. The woods
are full of the clatter of arms; the ringing of bucks' horns in flight;
the stampede of mailed feet up and down the glades; and a great dust of
battle is puffed out into the open, till the last of the ice is beaten
away and the cleared branches take up their regular chant.
Again the mercury drops twenty and more below zero, and the very trees
swoon. The snow turns to French chalk, squeaking under the heel, and
their breath cloaks the oxen in rime. At night a tree's heart will break
in him with a groan. According to the books, the frost has split
something, but it is a fearful sound, this grunt as of a man stunned.
Winter that is winter in earnest does not allow cattle and horses to
play about the fields, so everything comes home; and since no share can
break ground to any profit for some five months, there would seem to be
very little to do. As a matter of fact, country interests at all seasons
are extensive and peculiar, and the day is not long enough for them when
you take out that time which a self-respecting man needs to turn himself
round in. Consider! The solid undisturbed hours stand about one like
ramparts. At a certain time the sun will rise. At another hour, equally
certain, he will set. This much we know. Why, in the name of Reason,
therefore, should we vex ourselves with vain exertions? An occasional
visitor from the Cities of the Plains comes up panting to do things. He
is set down to listen to the normal beat of his own heart--a sound that
very few men have heard. In a few days, when the lather of impatience
has dried off, he ceases to talk of 'getting there' or 'being left.' He
does not desire to accomplish matters 'right away,' nor does he look at
his watch from force of habit, but keeps it where it should be--in his
stomach. At the last he goes back to his beleaguered city, unwillingly,
partially civilised, soon to be resavaged by the clash of a thousand
wars whose echo does not reach here.
The air which kills germs dries out the very newspapers. They might be
of to-morrow or a hundred years ago. They have nothing to do with
to-day--the long, full, sunlit to-day. Our interests are not on the same
scale as theirs, perhaps, but much more complex. The movement of a
foreign power--an alien sleigh on this Pontic shore--must be explained
and accounted for, or this public's heart will burst with unsatisfied
curiosity. If it be Buck Davis, with the white mare that he traded his
colt for, and the practically new sleigh-robe that he bought at the
Sewell auction, _why_ does Buck Davis, who lives on the river flats,
cross our hills, unless Murder Hollow be blockaded with snow, or unless
he has turkeys for sale? _But_ Buck Davis with turkeys would surely
have stopped here, unless he were selling a large stock in town. A wail
from the sacking at the back of the sleigh tells the tale. It is a
winter calf, and Buck Davis is going to sell it for one dollar to the
Boston Market where it will be turned into potted chicken. This leaves
the mystery of his change of route unexplained. After two days' sitting
on tenter-hooks it is discovered, obliquely, that Buck went to pay a
door-yard call on Orson Butler, who lives on the saeter where the wind
and the bald granite scaurs fight it out together. Kirk Demming had
brought Orson news of a fox at the back of Black Mountain, and Orson's
eldest son, going to Murder Hollow with wood for the new barn floor that
the widow Amidon is laying down, told Buck that he might as well come
round to talk to his father about the pig. _But_ old man Butler meant
fox-hunting from the first, and what he wanted to do was to borrow
Buck's dog, who had been duly brought over with the calf, and left on
the mountain. No old man Butler did _not_ go hunting alone, but waited
till Buck came back from town. Buck sold the calf for a dollar and a
quarter and not for seventy-five cents as was falsely asserted by
interested parties. _Then_ the two went after the fox together. This
much learned, everybody breathes freely, if life has not been
complicated in the meantime by more strange counter-marchings.
Five or six sleighs a day we can understand, if we know why they are
abroad; but any metropolitan rush of traffic disturbs and excites.
LETTERS TO THE FAMILY
These letters appeared in newspapers during the spring of 1908, after a
trip to Canada undertaken in the autumn of 1907. They are now reprinted
THE ROAD TO QUEBEC.
A PEOPLE AT HOME.
CITIES AND SPACES.
NEWSPAPERS AND DEMOCRACY.
THE FORTUNATE TOWNS.
MOUNTAINS AND THE PACIFIC.
* * * * *
THE ROAD TO QUEBEC
It must be hard for those who do not live there to realise the cross
between canker and blight that has settled on England for the last
couple of years. The effects of it are felt throughout the Empire, but
at headquarters we taste the stuff in the very air, just as one tastes
iodoform in the cups and bread-and-butter of a hospital-tea. So far as
one can come at things in the present fog, every form of unfitness,
general or specialised, born or created, during the last generation has
combined in one big trust--a majority of all the minorities--to play the
game of Government. Now that the game ceases to amuse, nine-tenths of
the English who set these folk in power are crying, 'If we had only
known what they were going to do we should never have voted for them!'
Yet, as the rest of the Empire perceived at the time, these men were
always perfectly explicit as to their emotions and intentions. They said
first, and drove it home by large pictures, that no possible advantage
to the Empire outweighed the cruelty and injustice of charging the
British working man twopence halfpenny a week on some of his provisions.
Incidentally they explained, so that all Earth except England heard it,
that the Army was wicked; much of the Navy unnecessary; that half the
population of one of the Colonies practised slavery, with torture, for
the sake of private gain, and that the mere name of Empire wearied and
sickened them. On these grounds they stood to save England; on these
grounds they were elected, with what seemed like clear orders to destroy
the blood-stained fetish of Empire as soon as possible. The present
mellow condition of Ireland, Egypt, India, and South Africa is proof of
their honesty and obedience. Over and above this, their mere presence in
office produced all along our lines the same moral effect as the
presence of an incompetent master in a classroom. Paper pellets, books,
and ink began to fly; desks were thumped; dirty pens were jabbed into
those trying to work; rats and mice were set free amid squeals of
exaggerated fear; and, as usual, the least desirable characters in the
forms were loudest to profess noble sentiments, and most eloquent grief
at being misjudged. Still, the English are not happy, and the unrest and
On the other hand, which is to our advantage, the isolation of the unfit
in one political party has thrown up the extremists in what the Babu
called 'all their naked _cui bono_.' These last are after satisfying the
two chief desires of primitive man by the very latest gadgets in
scientific legislation. But how to get free food, and free--shall we
say--love? within the four corners of an Act of Parliament without
giving the game away too grossly, worries them a little. It is easy
enough to laugh at this, but we are all so knit together nowadays that a
rot at what is called 'headquarters' may spread like bubonic, with every
steamer. I went across to Canada the other day, for a few weeks, mainly
to escape the Blight, and also to see what our Eldest Sister was doing.
Have you ever noticed that Canada has to deal in the lump with most of
the problems that afflict us others severally? For example, she has the
Double-Language, Double-Law, Double-Politics drawback in a worse form
than South Africa, because, unlike our Dutch, her French cannot well
marry outside their religion, and they take their orders from
Italy--less central, sometimes, than Pretoria or Stellenbosch. She has,
too, something of Australia's labour fuss, minus Australia's isolation,
but plus the open and secret influence of 'Labour' entrenched, with
arms, and high explosives on neighbouring soil. To complete the
parallel, she keeps, tucked away behind mountains, a trifle of land
called British Columbia, which resembles New Zealand; and New Zealanders
who do not find much scope for young enterprise in their own country are
drifting up to British Columbia already.
Canada has in her time known calamity more serious than floods, frost,
drought, and fire--and has macadamized some stretches of her road toward
nationhood with the broken hearts of two generations. That is why one
can discuss with Canadians of the old stock matters which an Australian
or New Zealander could no more understand than a wealthy child
understands death. Truly we are an odd Family! Australia and New Zealand
(the Maori War not counted) got everything for nothing. South Africa
gave everything and got less than nothing. Canada has given and taken
all along the line for nigh on three hundred years, and in some respects
is the wisest, as she should be the happiest, of us all. She seems to be
curiously unconscious of her position in the Empire, perhaps because she
has lately been talked at, or down to, by her neighbours. You know how
at any gathering of our men from all quarters it is tacitly conceded
that Canada takes the lead in the Imperial game. To put it roughly, she
saw the goal more than ten years ago, and has been working the ball
toward it ever since. That is why her inaction at the last Imperial
Conference made people who were interested in the play wonder why she,
of all of us, chose to brigade herself with General Botha and to block
the forward rush. I, too, asked that question of many. The answer was
something like this: 'We saw that England wasn't taking anything just
then. Why should we have laid ourselves open to be snubbed worse than we
were? We sat still.' Quite reasonable--almost too convincing. There was
really no need that Canada should have done other than she did--except
that she was the Eldest Sister, and more was expected of her. She is a
little too modest.
We discussed this, first of all, under the lee of a wet deck-house in
mid-Atlantic; man after man cutting in and out of the talk as he sucked
at his damp tobacco. The passengers were nearly all unmixed Canadian,
mostly born in the Maritime Provinces, where their fathers speak of
'Canada' as Sussex speaks of 'England,' but scattered about their
businesses throughout the wide Dominion. They were at ease, too, among
themselves, with that pleasant intimacy that stamps every branch of Our
Family and every boat that it uses on its homeward way. A Cape liner is
all the sub-Continent from the Equator to Simon's Town; an Orient boat
is Australasian throughout, and a C.P.R. steamer cannot be confused with
anything except Canada. It is a pity one may not be born in four places
at once, and then one would understand the half-tones and asides, and
the allusions of all our Family life without waste of precious time.
These big men, smoking in the drizzle, had hope in their eyes, belief in
their tongues, and strength in their hearts. I used to think miserably
of other boats at the South end of this ocean--a quarter full of people
deprived of these things. A young man kindly explained to me how Canada
had suffered through what he called 'the Imperial connection'; how she
had been diversely bedevilled by English statesmen for political
reasons. He did not know his luck, nor would he believe me when I tried
to point it out; but a nice man in a plaid (who knew South Africa)
lurched round the corner and fell on him with facts and imagery which
astonished the patriotic young mind. The plaid finished his outburst
with the uncontradicted statement that the English were mad. All our
talks ended on that note.
It was an experience to move in the midst of a new contempt. One
understands and accepts the bitter scorn of the Dutch, the hopeless
anger of one's own race in South Africa is also part of the burden; but
the Canadian's profound, sometimes humorous, often bewildered, always
polite contempt of the England of to-day cuts a little. You see, that
late unfashionable war was very real to Canada. She sent several men
to it, and a thinly-populated country is apt to miss her dead more than
a crowded one. When, from her point of view, they have died for no
conceivable advantage, moral or material, her business instincts, or it
may be mere animal love of her children, cause her to remember and
resent quite a long time after the thing should be decently forgotten. I
was shocked at the vehemence with which some men (and women) spoke of
the affair. Some of them went so far as to discuss--on the ship and
elsewhere--whether England would stay in the Family or whether, as some
eminent statesman was said to have asserted in private talk, she would
cut the painter to save expense. One man argued, without any heat, that
she would not so much break out of the Empire in one flurry, as
politically vend her children one by one to the nearest Power that
threatened her comfort; the sale of each case to be preceded by a
steady blast of abuse of the chosen victim. He quoted--really these
people have viciously long memories!--the five-year campaign of abuse
against South Africans as a precedent and a warning.
[Footnote 3: Boer 'war' of 1899-1902.]
Our Tobacco Parliament next set itself to consider by what means, if
this happened, Canada could keep her identity unsubmerged; and that led
to one of the most curious talks I have ever heard. It seemed to be
decided that she might--just might--pull through by the skin of her
teeth as a nation--if (but this was doubtful) England did not help
others to hammer her. Now, twenty years ago one would not have heard any
of this sort of thing. If it sounds a little mad, remember that the
Mother Country was throughout considered as a lady in violent hysterics.
Just at the end of the talk one of our twelve or thirteen hundred
steerage-passengers leaped overboard, ulstered and booted, into a
confused and bitter cold sea. Every horror in the world has its fitting
ritual. For the fifth time--and four times in just such weather--I heard
the screw stop; saw our wake curve like a whiplash as the great township
wrenched herself round; the lifeboat's crew hurry to the boat-deck; the
bare-headed officer race up the shrouds and look for any sign of the
poor head that had valued itself so lightly. A boat amid waves can see
nothing. There was nothing to see from the first. We waited and
quartered the ground back and forth for a long hour, while the rain fell
and the seas slapped along our sides, and the steam fluttered drearily
through the escapes. Then we went ahead.
The St. Lawrence on the last day of the voyage played up nobly. The
maples along its banks had turned--blood red and splendid as the banners
of lost youth. Even the oak is not more of a national tree than the
maple, and the sight of its welcome made the folks aboard still more
happy. A dry wind brought along all the clean smell of their
Continent-mixed odours of sawn lumber, virgin earth, and wood-smoke; and
they snuffed it, and their eyes softened as they, identified point after
point along their own beloved River--places where they played and fished
and amused themselves in holiday time. It must be pleasant to have a
country of one's very own to show off. Understand, they did not in any
way boast, shout, squeak, or exclaim, these even-voiced returned men and
women. They were simply and unfeignedly glad to see home again, and they
said: 'Isn't it lovely? Don't you think it's beautiful? We love it.'
At Quebec there is a sort of place, much infested by locomotives, like a
coal-chute, whence rise the heights that Wolfe's men scaled on their way
to the Plains of Abraham. Perhaps of all the tide-marks in all our lands
the affair of Quebec touches the heart and the eye more nearly than any
other. Everything meets there; France, the jealous partner of England's
glory by land and sea for eight hundred years; England, bewildered as
usual, but for a wonder not openly opposing Pitt, who knew; those other
people, destined to break from England as soon as the French peril was
removed; Montcalm himself, doomed and resolute; Wolfe, the inevitable
trained workman appointed for the finish; and somewhere in the
background one James Cook, master of H.M.S. _Mercury_, making beautiful
and delicate charts of the St. Lawrence River.
For these reasons the Plains of Abraham are crowned with all sorts of
beautiful things--including a jail and a factory. Montcalm's left wing
is marked by the jail, and Wolfe's right by the factory. There is,
happily, now a movement on foot to abolish these adornments and turn the
battle-field and its surroundings into a park, which by nature and
association would be one of the most beautiful in our world.
Yet, in spite of jails on the one side and convents on the other and the
thin black wreck of the Quebec Railway Bridge, lying like a dumped
car-load of tin cans in the river, the Eastern Gate to Canada is noble
with a dignity beyond words. We saw it very early, when the under sides
of the clouds turned chilly pink over a high-piled, brooding,
dusky-purple city. Just at the point of dawn, what looked like the
Sultan Harun-al-Raschid's own private shallop, all spangled with
coloured lights, stole across the iron-grey water, and disappeared into
the darkness of a slip. She came out again in three minutes, but the
full day had come too; so she snapped off her masthead, steering and
cabin electrics, and turned into a dingy white ferryboat, full of cold
passengers. I spoke to a Canadian about her. 'Why, she's the old
So-and-So, to Port Levis,' he answered, wondering as the Cockney wonders
when a stranger stares at an Inner Circle train. This was _his_ Inner
Circle--the Zion where he was all at ease. He drew my attention to
stately city and stately river with the same tranquil pride that we each
feel when the visitor steps across our own threshold, whether that be
Southampton Water on a grey, wavy morning; Sydney Harbour with a regatta
in full swing; or Table Mountain, radiant and new-washed after the
Christmas rains. He had, quite rightly, felt personally responsible for
the weather, and every flaming stretch of maple since we had entered the
river. (The North-wester in these parts is equivalent to the
South-easter elsewhere, and may impress a guest unfavourably.)
Then the autumn sun rose, and the man smiled. Personally and politically
he said he loathed the city--but it was his.
'Well,' he asked at last, 'what do you think? Not so bad?'
'Oh no. Not at all so bad,' I answered; and it wasn't till much later
that I realised that we had exchanged the countersign which runs clear
round the Empire.
A PEOPLE AT HOME
An up-country proverb says, 'She was bidden to the wedding and set down
to grind corn.' The same fate, reversed, overtook me on my little
excursion. There is a crafty network of organisations of business men
called Canadian Clubs. They catch people who look interesting, assemble
their members during the mid-day lunch-hour, and, tying the victim to a
steak, bid him discourse on anything that he thinks he knows. The idea
might be copied elsewhere, since it takes men out of themselves to
listen to matters not otherwise coming under their notice and, at the
same time, does not hamper their work. It is safely short, too. The
whole affair cannot exceed an hour, of which the lunch fills half. The
Clubs print their speeches annually, and one gets cross-sections of many
interesting questions--from practical forestry to State mints--all set
out by experts.
Not being an expert, the experience, to me, was very like hard work.
Till then I had thought speech-making was a sort of conversational
whist, that any one could cut in at it. I perceive now that it is an Art
of conventions remote from anything that comes out of an inkpot, and of
colours hard to control. The Canadians seem to like listening to
speeches, and, though this is by no means a national vice, they make
good oratory on occasion. You know the old belief that the white man on
brown, red, or black lands, will throw back in manner and instinct to
the type originally bred there? Thus, a speech in the taal should carry
the deep roll, the direct belly-appeal, the reiterated, cunning
arguments, and the few simple metaphors of the prince of commercial
orators, the Bantu. A New Zealander is said to speak from his diaphragm,
hands clenched at the sides, as the old Maoris used. What we know of
first-class Australian oratory shows us the same alertness, swift
flight, and clean delivery as a thrown boomerang. I had half expected in
Canadian speeches some survival of the Redskin's elaborate appeal to
Suns, Moons, and Mountains--touches of grandiosity and ceremonial
invocations. But nothing that I heard was referable to any primitive
stock. There was a dignity, a restraint, and, above all, a weight in it,
rather curious when one thinks of the influences to which the land lies
open. Red it was not; French it was not; but a thing as much by itself
as the speakers.
So with the Canadian's few gestures and the bearing of his body. During
the (Boer) war one watched the contingents from every point of view,
and, most likely, drew wrong inferences. It struck me then that the
Canadian, even when tired, slacked off less than the men from the hot
countries, and while resting did not lie on his back or his belly, but
rather on his side, a leg doubled under him, ready to rise in one surge.
This time while I watched assemblies seated, men in hotels and
passers-by, I fancied that he kept this habit of semi-tenseness at home
among his own; that it was the complement of the man's still
countenance, and his even, lowered voice. Looking at their footmarks on
the ground they seem to throw an almost straight track, neither splayed
nor in-toed, and to set their feet down with a gentle forward pressure,
rather like the Australian's stealthy footfall. Talking among
themselves, or waiting for friends, they did not drum with their
fingers, fiddle with their feet, or feel the hair on their faces. These
things seem trivial enough, but when breeds are in the making everything
is worth while. A man told me once--but I never tried the
experiment--that each of our Four Races light and handle fire in their
Small wonder we differ! Here is a people with no people at their backs,
driving the great world-plough which wins the world's bread up and up
over the shoulder of the world--a spectacle, as it might be, out of some
tremendous Norse legend. North of them lies Niflheim's enduring cold,
with the flick and crackle of the Aurora for Bifrost Bridge that Odin
and the Aesir visited. These people also go north year by year, and drag
audacious railways with them. Sometimes they burst into good wheat or
timber land, sometimes into mines of treasure, and all the North is
foil of voices--as South Africa was once--telling discoveries and making
When their winter comes, over the greater part of this country outside
the cities they must sit still, and eat and drink as the Aesir did. In
summer they cram twelve months' work into six, because between such and
such dates certain far rivers will shut, and, later, certain others,
till, at last, even the Great Eastern Gate at Quebec locks, and men must
go in and out by the side-doors at Halifax and St. John. These are
conditions that make for extreme boldness, but not for extravagant
The maples tell when it is time to finish, and all work in hand is
regulated by their warning signal. Some jobs can be put through before
winter; others must be laid aside ready to jump forward without a lost
minute in spring. Thus, from Quebec to Calgary a note of drive--not
hustle, but drive and finish-up--hummed like the steam-threshers on the
still, autumn air.
Hunters and sportsmen were coming in from the North; prospectors with
them, their faces foil of mystery, their pockets full of samples, like
prospectors the world over. They had already been wearing wolf and coon
skin coats. In the great cities which work the year round,
carriage--shops exhibited one or two seductive nickel-plated sledges, as
a hint; for the sleigh is 'the chariot at hand here of Love.' In the
country the farmhouses were stacking up their wood-piles within reach of
the kitchen door, and taking down the fly-screens, (One leaves these
on, as a rule, till the double windows are brought up from the cellar,
and one has to hunt all over the house for missing screws.) Sometimes
one saw a few flashing lengths of new stovepipe in a backyard, and
pitied the owner. There is no humour in the old, bitter-true stovepipe
jests of the comic papers.
But the railways--the wonderful railways--told the winter's tale most
emphatically. The thirty-ton coal cars were moving over three thousand
miles of track. They grunted and lurched against each other in the
switch-yards, or thumped past statelily at midnight on their way to
provident housekeepers of the prairie towns. It was not a clear way
either; for the bacon, the lard, the apples, the butter, and the cheese,
in beautiful whitewood barrels, were rolling eastwards toward the
steamers before the wheat should descend on them. That is the fifth act
of the great Year-Play for which the stage must be cleared. On scores of
congested sidings lay huge girders, rolled beams, limbs, and boxes of
rivets, once intended for the late Quebec Bridge--now so much mere
obstruction--and the victuals had to pick their way through 'em; and
behind the victuals was the lumber--clean wood out of the
mountains--logs, planks, clapboards, and laths, for which we pay such
sinful prices in England--all seeking the sea. There was housing, food,
and fuel for millions, on wheels together, and never a grain yet shifted
of the real staple which men for five hundred miles were threshing out
in heaps as high as fifty-pound villas.
Add to this, that the railways were concerned for their own new
developments--double-trackings, loops, cutoffs, taps, and feeder lines,
and great swoops out into untouched lands soon to be filled with men. So
the construction, ballast, and material trains, the grading machines,
the wrecking cars with their camel-like sneering cranes--the whole plant
of a new civilisation--had to find room somewhere in the general rally
before Nature cried, 'Lay off!'
Does any one remember that joyful strong confidence after the war, when
it seemed that, at last, South Africa was to be developed--when men laid
out railways, and gave orders for engines, and fresh rolling-stock, and
labour, and believed gloriously in the future? It is true the hope was
murdered afterward, but--multiply that good hour by a thousand, and you
will have some idea of how it feels to be in Canada--a place which even
an 'Imperial' Government cannot kill. I had the luck to be shown some
things from the inside--to listen to the details of works projected; the
record of works done. Above all, I saw what had actually been achieved
in the fifteen years since I had last come that way. One advantage of a
new land is that it makes you feel older than Time. I met cities where
there had been nothing--literally, absolutely nothing, except, as the
fairy tales say, 'the birds crying, and the grass waving in the wind.'
Villages and hamlets had grown to great towns, and the great towns
themselves had trebled and quadrupled. And the railways rubbed their
hands and cried, like the Afrites of old, 'Shall we make a city where
no city is; or render flourishing a city that is dasolate?' They do it
too, while, across the water, gentlemen, never forced to suffer one
day's physical discomfort in all their lives, pipe up and say, 'How
I wonder sometimes whether any eminent novelist, philosopher, dramatist,
or divine of to-day has to exercise half the pure imagination, not to
mention insight, endurance, and self-restraint, which is accepted
without comment in what is called 'the material exploitation' of a new
country. Take only the question of creating a new city at the junction
of two lines--all three in the air. The mere drama of it, the play of
the human virtues, would fill a book. And when the work is finished,
when the city is, when the new lines embrace a new belt of farms, and
the tide of the Wheat has rolled North another unexpected degree, the
men who did it break off, without compliments, to repeat the joke
I had some talk with a youngish man whose business it was to train
avalanches to jump clear of his section of the track. Thor went to
Jotunheim only once or twice, and he had his useful hammer Miolnr with
him. This Thor lived in Jotunheim among the green-ice-crowned peaks of
the Selkirks--where if you disturb the giants at certain seasons of the
year, by making noises, they will sit upon you and all your fine
emotions. So Thor watches them glaring under the May sun, or dull and
doubly dangerous beneath the spring rains. He wards off their strokes
with enormous brattices of wood, wing-walls of logs bolted together, and
such other contraptions as experience teaches. He bears the giants no
malice; they do their work, he his. What bothers him a little is that
the wind of their blows sometimes rips pines out of the opposite
hill-sides--explodes, as it were, a whole valley. He thinks, however, he
can fix things so as to split large avalanches into little ones.
Another man, to whom I did not talk, sticks in my memory. He had for
years and years inspected trains at the head of a heavyish grade in the
mountains--though not half so steep as the Hex--where all brakes are
jammed home, and the cars slither warily for ten miles. Tire-troubles
there would be inconvenient, so he, as the best man, is given the
heaviest job--monotony and responsibility combined. He did me the honour
of wanting to speak to me, but first he inspected his train--on all
fours with a hammer. By the time he was satisfied of the integrity of
the underpinnings it was time for us to go; and all that I got was a
friendly wave of the hand--a master craftsman's sign, you might call it.
[Footnote 4: Hex River, South Africa.]
Canada seems full of this class of materialist.
Which reminds me that the other day I saw the Lady herself in the shape
of a tall woman of twenty-five or six, waiting for her tram on a street
corner. She wore her almost flaxen-gold hair waved, and parted low on
the forehead, beneath a black astrachan toque, with a red enamel
maple-leaf hatpin in one side of it. This was the one touch of colour
except the flicker of a buckle on the shoe. The dark, tailor-made dress
had no trinkets or attachments, but fitted perfectly. She stood for
perhaps a minute without any movement, both hands--right bare, left
gloved--hanging naturally at her sides, the very fingers still, the
weight of the superb body carried evenly on both feet, and the profile,
which was that of Gudrun or Aslauga, thrown out against a dark stone
column. What struck me most, next to the grave, tranquil eyes, was her
slow, unhurried breathing in the hurry about her. She was evidently a
regular fare, for when her tram stopped she smiled at the lucky
conductor; and the last I saw of her was a flash of the sun on the red
maple-leaf, the full face still lighted by that smile, and her hair very
pale gold against the dead black fur. But the power of the mouth, the
wisdom of the brow, the human comprehension of the eyes, and the
outstriking vitality of the creature remained. That is how _I_ would
have my country drawn, were I a Canadian--and hung in Ottawa Parliament
House, for the discouragement of prevaricators.
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.
NEWSPAPERS AND DEMOCRACY
Let it be granted that, as the loud-voiced herald hired by the Eolithic
tribe to cry the news of the coming day along the caves, preceded the
chosen Tribal Bard who sang the more picturesque history of the tribe,
so is Journalism senior to Literature, in that Journalism meets the
first tribal need after warmth, food, and women.
In new countries it shows clear trace of its descent from the Tribal
Herald. A tribe thinly occupying large spaces feels lonely. It desires
to hear the roll-call of its members cried often and loudly; to comfort
itself with the knowledge that there are companions just below the
horizon. It employs, therefore, heralds to name and describe all who
pass. That is why newspapers of new countries seem often so outrageously
personal. The tribe, moreover, needs quick and sure knowledge of
everything that touches on its daily life in the big spaces--earth, air,
and water news which the Older Peoples have put behind them. That is why
its newspapers so often seem so laboriously trivial.
For example, a red-nosed member of the tribe, Pete O'Halloran, comes in
thirty miles to have his horse shod, and incidentally smashes the
king-bolt of his buckboard at a bad place in the road. The Tribal
Herald--a thin weekly, with a patent inside--connects the red nose and
the breakdown with an innuendo which, to the outsider, is clumsy libel.
But the Tribal Herald understands that two-and-seventy families of the
tribe may use that road weekly. It concerns them to discover whether the
accident was due to Pete being drunk or, as Pete protests, to the
neglected state of the road. Fifteen men happen to know that Pete's nose
is an affliction, not an indication. One of them loafs across and
explains to the Tribal Herald, who, next week, cries aloud that the road
ought to be mended. Meantime Pete, warmed to the marrow at having
focussed the attention of his tribe for a few moments, retires thirty
miles up-stage, pursued by advertisements of buckboards guaranteed not
to break their king-bolts, and later (which is what the tribe were after
all the time) some tribal authority or other mends the road.
This is only a big-scale diagram, but with a little attention you can
see the tribal instinct of self-preservation quite logically
underrunning all sorts of queer modern developments.
As the tribe grows, and men do not behold the horizon from edge to
unbroken edge, their desire to know all about the next man weakens a
little--but not much. Outside the cities are still the long distances,
the 'vast, unoccupied areas' of the advertisements; and the men who come
and go yearn to keep touch with and report themselves as of old to
their lodges. A man stepping out of the dark into the circle of the
fires naturally, if he be a true man, holds up his hands and says, 'I,
So-and-So, am here.' You can watch the ritual in full swing at any hotel
when the reporter (_pro_ Tribal Herald) runs his eyes down the list of
arrivals, and before he can turn from the register is met by the
newcomer, who, without special desire for notoriety, explains his
business and intentions. Observe, it is always at evening that the
reporter concerns himself with strangers. By day he follows the
activities of his own city and the doings of nearby chiefs; but when it
is time to close the stockade, to laager the wagons, to draw the
thorn-bush back into the gap, then in all lands he reverts to the Tribal
Herald, who is also the tribal Outer Guard.
There are countries where a man is indecently pawed over by chattering
heralds who bob their foul torches in his face till he is singed and
smoked at once. In Canada the necessary 'Stand and deliver your
sentiments' goes through with the large decency that stamps all the
Dominion. A stranger's words are passed on to the tribe quite
accurately; no dirt is put into his mouth, and where the heralds judge
that it would be better not to translate certain remarks they
courteously explain why.
It was always delightful to meet the reporters, for they were men
interested in their land, with the keen, unselfish interest that one
finds in young house-surgeons or civilians. Thanks to the (Boer) war,
many of them had reached out to the ends of our earth, and spoke of the
sister nations as it did one good to hear. Consequently the
interviews--which are as dreary for the reporter as the reported--often
turned into pleasant and unpublished talks. One felt at every turn of
the quick sentences to be dealing with made and trained players of the
game--balanced men who believed in decencies not to be disregarded,
confidences not to be violated, and honour not to be mocked. (This may
explain what men and women have told me--that there is very little of
the brutal domestic terrorism of the Press in Canada, and not much
blackmailing.) They neither spat nor wriggled; they interpolated no
juicy anecdotes of murder or theft among their acquaintance; and not
once between either ocean did they or any other fellow-subjects
volunteer that their country was 'law-abiding.'
You know the First Sign-post on the Great Main Road? 'When a Woman
advertises that she is virtuous, a Man that he is a gentleman, a
Community that it is loyal, or a Country that it is law-abiding--go the
Yet, while the men's talk was so good and new, their written word seemed
to be cast in conventional, not to say old-fashioned, moulds. A quarter
of a century ago a sub-editor, opening his mail, could identify the
Melbourne _Argus_, the Sydney _Morning Herald_, or the Cape _Times_ as
far as he could see them. Even unheaded clippings from them declared
their origin as a piece of hide betrays the beast that wore it. But he
noticed then that Canadian journals left neither spoor nor scent--might
have blown in from anywhere between thirty degrees of latitude--and had
to be carefully identified by hand. To-day, the spacing, the headlines,
the advertising of Canadian papers, the chessboard-like look of the open
page which should be a daily beautiful study in black and white, the
brittle pulp-paper, the machine-set type, are all as standardised as the
railway cars of the Continent. Indeed, looking through a mass of
Canadian journals is like trying to find one's own sleeper in a corridor
train. Newspaper offices are among the most conservative organisations
in the world; but surely after twenty-five years some changes might be
permitted to creep in; some original convention of expression or
assembly might be developed.
I drew up to this idea cautiously among a knot of fellow-craftsmen. 'You
mean,' said one straight-eyed youth, 'that we are a back-number copying
It was precisely what I did mean, so I made haste to deny it. 'We know
that,' he said cheerfully. 'Remember we haven't the sea all round
us--and the postal rates to England have only just been lowered. It will
all come right.'
Surely it will; but meantime one hates to think of these splendid people
using second-class words to express first-class emotions.
And so naturally from Journalism to Democracy. Every country is entitled
to her reservations, and pretences, but the more 'democratic' a land
is, the more make-believes must the stranger respect. Some of the Tribal
Heralds were very good to me in this matter, and, as it were, nudged me
when it was time to duck in the House of Rimmon. During their office
hours they professed an unflinching belief in the blessed word
'Democracy,' which means any crowd on the move--that is to say, the
helpless thing which breaks through floors and falls into cellars;
overturns pleasure-boats by rushing from port to starboard; stamps men
into pulp because it thinks it has lost sixpence, and jams and grills in
the doorways of blazing theatres. Out of office, like every one else,
they relaxed. Many winked, a few were flippant, but they all agreed that
the only drawback to Democracy was Demos--a jealous God of primitive
tastes and despotic tendencies. I received a faithful portrait of him
from a politician who had worshipped him all his life. It was
practically the Epistle of Jeremy--the sixth chapter of Baruch--done
into unquotable English.
But Canada is not yet an ideal Democracy. For one thing she has had to
work hard among rough-edged surroundings which carry inevitable
consequences. For another, the law in Canada exists and is administered,
not as a surprise, a joke, a favour, a bribe, or a Wrestling Turk
exhibition, but as an integral part of the national character--no more
to be forgotten or talked about than one's trousers. If you kill, you
hang. If you steal, you go to jail. This has worked toward peace,
self-respect, and, I think, the innate dignity of the people. On the
other hand--which is where the trouble will begin--railways and steamers
make it possible nowadays to bring in persons who need never lose touch
of hot and cold water-taps, spread tables, and crockery till they are
turned out, much surprised, into the wilderness. They clean miss the
long weeks of salt-water and the slow passage across the plains which
pickled and tanned the early emigrants. They arrive with soft bodies and
unaired souls. I had this vividly brought home to me by a man on a train
among the Selkirks. He stood on the safely railed rear-platform, looked
at the gigantic pine-furred shoulder round which men at their lives'
risk had led every yard of the track, and chirruped: 'I say, why can't
all this be nationalised?' There was nothing under heaven except the
snows and the steep to prevent him from dropping off the cars and
hunting a mine for himself. Instead of which he went into the
dining-car. That is one type.
A man told me the old tale of a crowd of Russian immigrants who at a big
fire in a city 'verted to the ancestral type, and blocked the streets
yelling, 'Down with the Czar!' That is another type. A few days later I
was shown a wire stating that a community of Doukhobors--Russians
again--had, not for the first time, undressed themselves, and were
fleeing up the track to meet the Messiah before the snow fell. Police
were pursuing them with warm underclothing, and trains would please
take care not to run over them.
So there you have three sort of steam-borne unfitness--soft, savage, and
mad. There is a fourth brand, which may be either home-grown or
imported, but democracies do not recognise it, of downright bad
folk--grown, healthy men and women who honestly rejoice in doing evil.
These four classes acting together might conceivably produce a rather
pernicious democracy; alien hysteria, blood-craze, and the like,
reinforcing local ignorance, sloth, and arrogance. For example, I read a
letter in a paper sympathising with these same Doukhobors. The writer
knew a community of excellent people in England (you see where the rot
starts!) who lived barefoot, paid no taxes, ate nuts, and were above
marriage. They were a soulful folk, living pure lives. The Doukhobors
were also pure and soulful, entitled in a free country to live their own
lives, and not to be oppressed, etc. etc. (Imported soft, observe,
playing up to Imported mad.) Meantime, disgusted police were chasing the
Doukhobors into flannels that they might live to produce children fit to
consort with the sons of the man who wrote that letter and the daughters
of the crowd that lost their heads at the fire.
'All of which,' men and women answered, 'we admit. But what can we do?
We want people.' And they showed vast and well-equipped schools, where
the children of Slav immigrants are taught English and the songs of
Canada. 'When they grow up,' people said, 'you can't tell them from
Canadians.' It was a wonderful work. The teacher holds up pens, reels,
and so forth, giving the name in English; the children repeating Chinese
fashion. Presently when they have enough words they can bridge back to
the knowledge they learned in their own country, so that a boy of
twelve, at, say, the end of a year, will produce a well-written English
account of his journey from Russia, how much his mother paid for food by
the way, and where his father got his first job. He will also lay his
hand on his heart, and say, 'I--am--a--Canadian.' This gratifies the
Canadian, who naturally purrs over an emigrant owing everything to the
land which adopted him and set him on his feet. The Lady Bountiful of an
English village takes the same interest in a child she has helped on in
the world. And the child repays by his gratitude and good behaviour?
Personally, one cannot care much for those who have renounced their own
country. They may have had good reason, but they have broken the rules
of the game, and ought to be penalised instead of adding to their score.
Nor is it true, as men pretend, that a few full meals and fine clothes
obliterate all taint of alien instinct and reversion. A thousand years
cannot be as yesterday for mankind; and one has only to glance at the
races across the Border to realise how in outlook, manner, expression,
and morale the South and South-east profoundly and fatally affects the
North and North-west. That was why the sight of the beady-eyed,
muddy-skinned, aproned women, with handkerchiefs on their heads and
Oriental bundles in their hands, always distressed one.
'But _why_ must you get this stuff?' I asked. 'You know it is not your
equal, and it knows that it is not your equal; and that is bad for you
both. What is the matter with the English as immigrants?'
The answers were explicit: 'Because the English do not work. Because we
are sick of Remittance-men and loafers sent out here. Because the
English are rotten with Socialism. Because the English don't fit with
our life. They kick at our way of doing things. They are always telling
us how things are done in England. They carry frills! Don't you know the
story of the Englishman who lost his way and was found half-dead of
thirst beside a river? When he was asked why he didn't drink, he said,
"How the deuce can I without a glass?"'
'But,' I argued over three thousand miles of country, 'all these are
excellent reasons for bringing in the Englishman. It is true that in his
own country he is taught to shirk work, because kind, silly people fall
over each other to help and debauch and amuse him. Here, General January
will stiffen him up. Remittance-men are an affliction to every branch of
the Family, but your manners and morals can't be so tender as to suffer
from a few thousand of them among your six millions. As to the
Englishman's Socialism, he is, by nature, the most unsocial animal
alive. What you call Socialism is his intellectual equivalent for
Diabolo and Limerick competitions. As to his criticisms, you surely
wouldn't marry a woman who agreed with you in everything, and you ought
to choose your immigrants on the same lines. You admit that the Canadian
is too busy to kick at anything. The Englishman is a born kicker. ("Yes,
he is all that," they said.) He kicks on principle, and that is what
makes for civilisation. So did your Englishman's instinct about the
glass. Every new country needs--vitally needs--one-half of one per cent
of its population trained to die of thirst rather than drink out of
their hands. You are always talking of the second generation of your
Smyrniotes and Bessarabians. Think what the second generation of the
They thought--quite visibly--but they did not much seem to relish it.
There was a queer stringhalt in their talk--a conversational shy across
the road--when one touched on these subjects. After a while I went to a
Tribal Herald whom I could trust, and demanded of him point-blank where
the trouble really lay, and who was behind it.
'It is Labour,' he said. 'You had better leave it alone.'
One cannot leave a thing alone if it is thrust under the nose at every
turn. I had not quitted the Quebec steamer three minutes when I was
asked point-blank: 'What do you think of the question of Asiatic
Exclusion which is Agitating our Community?'
The Second Sign-Post on the Great Main Road says: 'If a Community is
agitated by a Question--inquire politely after the health of the
Agitator,' This I did, without success; and had to temporise all across
the Continent till I could find some one to help me to acceptable
answers. The Question appears to be confined to British Columbia. There,
after a while, the men who had their own reasons for not wishing to talk
referred me to others who explained, and on the acutest understanding
that no names were to be published (it is sweet to see engineers afraid
of being hoist by their own petards) one got more or less at something
The Chinaman has always been in the habit of coming to British Columbia,
where he makes, as he does elsewhere, the finest servant in the world.
No one, I was assured on all hands, objects to the biddable Chinaman.
He takes work which no white man in a new country will handle, and when
kicked by the mean white will not grossly retaliate. He has always paid
for the privilege of making his fortune on this wonderful coast, but
with singular forethought and statesmanship, the popular Will, some few
years ago, decided to double the head-tax on his entry. Strange as it
may appear, the Chinaman now charges double for his services, and is
scarce at that. This is said to be one of the reasons why overworked
white women die or go off their heads; and why in new cities you can see
blocks of flats being built to minimise the inconveniences of
housekeeping without help. The birth-rate will fall later in exact
proportion to those flats.
Since the Russo-Japanese War the Japanese have taken to coming over to
British Columbia. They also do work which no white man will; such as
hauling wet logs for lumber mills out of cold water at from eight to ten
shillings a day. They supply the service in hotels and dining-rooms and
keep small shops. The trouble with them is that they are just a little
too good, and when attacked defend themselves with asperity.
A fair sprinkling of Punjabis--ex-soldiers, Sikhs, Muzbis, and Jats--are
coming in on the boats. The plague at home seems to have made them
restless, but I could not gather why so many of them come from Shahpur,
Phillour, and Jullundur way. These men do not, of course, offer for
house-service, but work in the lumber mills, and with the least little
care and attention could be made most valuable. Some one ought to tell
them not to bring their old men with them, and better arrangements
should be made for their remitting money home to their villages. They
are not understood, of course; but they are not hated.
The objection is all against the Japanese. So far--except that they are
said to have captured the local fishing trade at Vancouver, precisely as
the Malays control the Cape Town fish business--they have not yet
competed with the whites; but I was earnestly assured by many men that
there was danger of their lowering the standard of life and wages. The
demand, therefore, in certain quarters is that they go--absolutely and
unconditionally. (You may have noticed that Democracies are strong on
the imperative mood.) An attempt was made to shift them shortly before I
came to Vancouver, but it was not very successful, because the Japanese
barricaded their quarters and flocked out, a broken bottle held by the
neck in either hand, which they jabbed in the faces of the
demonstrators. It is, perhaps, easier to haze and hammer bewildered
Hindus and Tamils, as is being done across the Border, than to stampede
the men of the Yalu and Liaoyang.
[Footnote 5: Battles in the Russo-Japanese War.]
But when one began to ask questions one got lost in a maze of hints,
reservations, and orations, mostly delivered with constraint, as though
the talkers were saying a piece learned by heart. Here are some
A man penned me in a corner with a single heavily capitalised sentence.
'There is a General Sentiment among Our People that the Japanese Must
Go,' said he.
'Very good,' said I. 'How d'you propose to set about it?'
'That is nothing to us. There is a General Sentiment,' etc.
'Quite so. Sentiment is a beautiful thing, but what are you going to
do?' He did not condescend to particulars, but kept repeating the
sentiment, which, as I promised, I record.
Another man was a little more explicit. 'We desire,' he said, 'to keep
the Chinaman. But the Japanese must go.'
'Then who takes their place? Isn't this rather a new country to pitch
people out of?'
'We must develop our Resources slowly, sir--with an Eye to the Interests
of our Children. We must preserve the Continent for Races which will
assimilate with Ours. We must not be swamped by Aliens.'
'Then bring in your own races and bring 'em in quick,' I ventured.
This is the one remark one must not make in certain quarters of the
West; and I lost caste heavily while he explained (exactly as the Dutch
did at the Cape years ago) how British Columbia was by no means so rich
as she appeared; that she was throttled by capitalists and monopolists
of all kinds; that white labour had to be laid off and fed and warmed
during the winter; that living expenses were enormously high; that they
were at the end of a period of prosperity, and were now entering on
lean years; and that whatever steps were necessary for bringing in more
white people should be taken with extreme caution. Then he added that
the railway rates to British Columbia were so high that emigrants were
debarred from coming on there.
'But haven't the rates been reduced?' I asked.
'Yes--yes, I believe they have, but immigrants are so much in demand
that they are snapped up before they have got so far West. You must
remember, too, that skilled labour is not like agricultural labour. It
is dependent on so many considerations. And the Japanese must go.'
'So people have told me. But I heard stories of dairies and fruit-farms
in British Columbia being thrown up because there was no labour to milk
or pick the fruit. Is that true, d'you think?'
'Well, you can't expect a man with all the chances that our country
offers him to milk cows in a pasture. A Chinaman can do that. We want
races that will assimilate with ours,' etc., etc.
'But didn't the Salvation Army offer to bring in three or four thousand
English some short time ago? What came of that idea?'
'For political reasons, I believe. We do not want People who will lower
the Standard of Living. That is why the Japanese must go.'
'Then why keep the Chinese?'
'We can get on with the Chinese. We can't get on without the Chinese.
But we must have Emigration of a Type that will assimilate with Our
People. I hope I have made myself clear?'
I hoped that he had, too.
Now hear a wife, a mother, and a housekeeper.
'We have to pay for this precious state of things with our health and
our children's. Do you know the saying that the Frontier is hard on
women and cattle? This isn't the frontier, but in some respects it's
worse, because we have all the luxuries and appearances--the pretty
glass and silver to put on the table. We have to dust, polish, and
arrange 'em after we've done our housework. I don't suppose that means
anything to you, but--try it for a month! We have no help. A Chinaman
costs fifty or sixty dollars a month now. Our husbands can't always
afford that. How old would you take me for? I'm not thirty. Well thank
God, I stopped my sister coming out West. Oh yes, it's a fine
'Can't you import servants from England?'
'I can't pay a girl's passage in order to have her married in three
months. Besides, she wouldn't work. They won't when they see Chinamen
'Do you object to the Japanese, too?'
'Of course not. No one does. It's only politics. The wives of the men
who earn six and seven dollars a day--skilled labour they call it--have
Chinese and Jap servants. _We_ can't afford it. _We_ have to think of
saving for the future, but those other people live up to every cent they
earn. They know _they're_ all right. They're Labour. They'll be looked
after, whatever happens. You can see how the State looks after me.'
A little later I had occasion to go through a great and beautiful city
between six and seven of a crisp morning. Milk and fish, vegetables,
etc., were being delivered to the silent houses by Chinese and Japanese.
Not a single white man was visible on that chilly job.
Later still a man came to see me, without too publicly giving his name.
He was in a small way of business, and told me (others had said much the
same thing) that if I gave him away his business would suffer. He talked
for half an hour on end.
'Am I to understand, then,' I said, 'that what you call Labour
absolutely dominates this part of the world?'
'That it is difficult to get skilled labour into here?'
'Difficult? My God, if I want to get an extra hand for my business--I
pay Union wages, of course--I have to arrange to get him here secretly.
I have to go out and meet him, accidental-like, down the line, and if
the Unions find out that he is coming, they, like as not, order him back
East, or turn him down across the Border.'
'Even if he has his Union ticket? Why?'
'They'll tell him that labour conditions are not good here. He knows
what that means. He'll turn back quick enough. I'm in a small way of
business, and I can't afford to take any chances fighting the Unions.'
'What would happen if you did?'
'D'you know what's happening across the Border? Men get blown up
'But this isn't across the Border?'
'It's a damn-sight too near to be pleasant. And witnesses get blown up,
too. You see, the Labour situation ain't run from our side the line.
It's worked from down under. You may have noticed men were rather
careful when they talked about it?'
'Yes, I noticed all that.'
'Well, it ain't a pleasant state of affairs. I don't say that the Unions
here would do anything _to_ you--and please understand I'm all for the
rights of Labour myself. Labour has no better friend than me--I've been
a working man, though I've got a business of my own now. Don't run away
with any idea that I'm against Labour--will you?'
'Not in the least. I can see that. You merely find that Labour's a
little bit--er--inconsiderate, sometimes?'
'Look what happens across the Border! I suppose they've told you that
little fuss with the Japanese in Vancouver was worked from down under,
haven't they? I don't think our own people 'ud have done it by
'I've heard that several times. Is it quite sporting, do you think, to
lay the blame on another country?'
'_You_ don't live here. But as I was saying--if we get rid of the Japs
to-day, we'll be told to get rid of some one else to-morrow. There's no
limit, sir, to what Labour wants. None!'
'I thought they only want a fair day's wage for a fair day's work?'
'That may do in the Old Country, but here they mean to boss the country.
'And how does the country like it?'
'We're about sick of it. It don't matter much in flush
times--employers'll do most anything sooner than stop work--but when we
come to a pinch, you'll hear something. We're a rich land--in spite of
everything they make out--but we're held up at every turn by Labour.
Why, there's businesses on businesses which friends of mine--in a small
way like myself--want to start. Businesses in every direction--if they
was only allowed to start in. But they ain't.'
'That's a pity. Now, what do you think about the Japanese question?'
'I don't think. I know. Both political parties are playing up to the
Labour vote--if you understand what that means.'
I tried to understand.
'And neither side'll tell the truth--that if the Asiatic goes, this side
of the Continent'll drop out of sight, unless we get free white
immigration. And any party that proposed white immigration on a large
scale 'ud be snowed under next election. I'm telling you what
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