A train of freight cars is passing along a line that comes out of
the blue and goes on till it meets the blue again.
Elsewhere the train
would move off with a joyous, vibrant roar. Here it steals away down the
vista of the telegraph poles with an awed whisper - steals away and sinks
into the soil.
Then comes a town deep in black mud - a straggly, inch-thick plank town,
with dull red grain elevators. The open country refuses to be subdued
even for a few score rods. Each street ends in the illimitable open, and
it is as though the whole houseless, outside earth were racing through
it. Towards evening, under a gray sky, flies by an unframed picture of
desolation. In the foreground a farm wagon almost axle deep in mud, the
mire dripping from the slow-turning wheels as the man flogs the horses.
Behind him on a knoll of sodden soggy grass, fenced off by raw rails
from the landscape at large, are a knot of utterly uninterested citizens
who have flogged horses and raised wheat in their time, but to-day lie
under chipped and weather-worn wooden headstones. Surely burial here
must be more awful to the newly-made ghost than burial at sea.
There is more snow as we go north, and Nature is hard at work breaking
up the ground for the spring. The thaw has filled every depression with
a sullen gray-black spate, and out on the levels the water lies six
inches deep, in stretch upon stretch, as far as the eye can reach. Every
culvert is full, and the broken ice clicks against the wooden
pier-guards of the bridges. Somewhere in this flatness there is a
refreshing jingle of spurs along the cars, and a man of the Canadian
Mounted Police swaggers through with his black fur cap and the yellow
tab aside, his well-fitting overalls and his better set-up back. One
wants to shake hands with him because he is clean and does not slouch
nor spit, trims his hair, and walks as a man should. Then a
custom-house officer wants to know too much about cigars, whisky, and
Florida water. Her Majesty the Queen of England and Empress of India has
us in her keeping. Nothing has happened to the landscape, and Winnipeg,
which is, as it were, a centre of distribution for emigrants, stands up
to her knees in the water of the thaw. The year has turned in earnest,
and somebody is talking about the 'first ice-shove' at Montreal, 1300 or
1400 miles east.
They will not run trains on Sunday at Montreal, and this is Wednesday.
Therefore, the Canadian Pacific makes up a train for Vancouver at
Winnipeg. This is worth remembering, because few people travel in that
train, and you escape any rush of tourists running westward to catch the
Yokohama boat. The car is your own, and with it the service of the
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