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   Chapter 10 NIGHT AND DAY ON THE CARS IN CANADA.

Faces and Places By Sir Henry W. Lucy Characters: 13138

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Porter!"

The voice broke the stillness of a long night, and suddenly woke me out

of a deep sleep. There was a moment's pause, and then the voice, which

sounded singularly near to my bed-curtains, spoke again.

"Porter!"

"Yes, sah!"

"You have given me the wrong boots."

From the foot of my bed, as it seemed, there came another voice which

said, with querulous emphasis, "These are not my boots."

Then followed explanations, apologies, and interchange of boots; and

before the parleying had come to an end I was sufficiently awake to

remember that on the previous night I had gone to bed in a Pullman car

at Montreal, and had been speeding all night towards Halifax. It had

been mild autumnal weather in Montreal, and the snow, which a week ago

had fallen to the depth of two or three inches, had melted and been

trodden out of sight save for the sprinkling which remained on the

crest of Mount Royal. Here, as a glance through the window disclosed,

we were again in the land of snow. It was not deep, for winter had not

yet set in, and the sleighs, joyfully brought out at the first fall,

had been relegated to summer quarters. But there was quite enough about

to give the country a cheerful wintry aspect, the morning sun shining

merrily over the white fields and the leafless trees, bare save for the

foliage with which the snowflakes had endowed them. It may have been an

equally fine morning in Montreal, but it is certain it seemed twice as

bright and fresh here, and we began to realise something of those

exhilarating properties of the Canadian air of which we had fondly read.

On this long journey eastward travellers do not enter the city of

Quebec. They pass by on the other side of the river, and thus gain the

advantage of seeing Quebec as a picture should be seen, from a

convenient distance. Moreover, like many celebrated paintings, Quebec

will not stand inspection at the length of the nose. But even taken in

detail, walking through its narrow and steep streets, there is much to

delight the eye. It has quaint old houses, and shops with pea green

shutters, over which flaunt crazy, large-lettered signs that it could

have entered into the heart of none but a Frenchman to devise. Save for

the absence of the blouse and the sabot you might, picking your way

through the mud in a street in the lower part of the city, imagine

yourself in some quarters of Dieppe or Calais, or any other of the

busier towns in the north of France. The peaked roofs, the unexpected

balconies, the ill-regulated gables, and the general individuality of

the houses are pleasing to the eye wearied with the prim monotony of

English street architecture.

Quebec, to be seen at its best, should be gazed at from the harbour, or

from the other side of the river. This morning it is glorious, with its

streets in the snow, its many spires in the sunlight, and the blue haze

of the hills in the distance. We make our first stoppage at Point Levi,

the station for Quebec, and here are twenty minutes for breakfast. The

whereabouts of breakfast is indicated by a youth, who from the steps of

an "hotel" at the station gate stolidly rings a bell. The passengers

enter, and are shown into a room, in the centre of which is a large

stove. The atmosphere is simply horrible. The double windows are up for

the still dallying winter, and, as the drops of dirty moisture which

stand on the panes testify, they are hermetically closed. The kitchen

leads out of the room by what is apparently the only open door in the

house, every other being jealously closed lest peradventure a whiff of

fresh air should get in. It is impossible to eat, and one is glad to

pay for the untasted food and get out into the open air before the

power of respiration is permanently injured.

It was said this is the only place where there would be any chance of

breakfast, nothing to eat till Trois Pistoles is reached, late in the

afternoon. Happily this information turned out ill-founded. At L'Islet,

a little station reached at eleven o'clock a stoppage was made at an

unpretentious but clean and fresh restaurant, where the people speak

French and know how to make soup.

A few years ago a journey by rail between Montreal and Halifax, without

break save what is necessary for replenishing the engine stores, would

have been impossible. The Grand Trunk, spanning the breadth of the more

favoured provinces of Ontario and Quebec, leaves New Brunswick and Nova

Scotia without other means of intercommunication than is afforded by its

many rivers and its questionable roads. For many years Canadian

statesmen, and all others interested in the practical confederation of

the various provinces that make up the Dominion, felt that the primary

and surest bond of union would be a railway. The military authorities

were even more urgent as to the necessity of connecting Quebec and

Halifax, and at one time a military road was seriously talked about.

Long ago a railway was projected, and in 1846-8 a survey was carried out

with that object. From that date up to 1869, when the road was actually

commenced, the matter was fitfully discussed, and it was only in 1876

that the railway was opened.

It is only a single line, and as a commercial undertaking is not likely

to pay at that, passing as it does through long miles of territory where

"still stands the forest primeval." It was made by the Dominion

Government in pursuance of a high national policy, and it adequately and

admirably meets the ends for which it was devised. The total length from

Rivière du Loup to Halifax is 561 miles. There is a spur running down to

St. John, in the Bay of Fundy, eighty-nine miles long, another branch

fifty-two miles long to Pictou, a great coal district opposite the

southern end of Prince Edward Island; while a third span of eleven

miles, branching off at Monckton and finishing at Point du Char, meets

the steamers for Prince Edward Island, making a total length of 713

miles. The rails are steel, and the road is, mile for mile, as well made

as any in England. The carriages are on the American principle--the long

waggons capable of seating fifty or sixty persons, with an open passage

down the centre, through which the conductor and ticket collector

periodically walk. The carriages are heated to distraction by means of a

huge sto

ve at either end. It is possible to open the windows, but that

is to be easily accomplished only after an apprenticeship too long for

the stay of the average traveller. After a painful hour one gets

accustomed to the atmosphere of the place, as it is happily possible to

grow accustomed to any atmosphere. But the effect of these fierce stoves

and obstinate windows must be permanently deleterious.

The Pullman car has fortunately come to make railway travelling in

America endurable. Apart from other considerations, the inevitable stove

is better managed. You are thoroughly warmed,---occasionally, it is

true, parboiled. But there is at least freedom from the sulphurous

atmosphere which pervades the ordinary car, with its two infernal

machines, one at either end. In addition, the Pullman cars have more

luxurious fittings, and are hung on smoother springs. It is at night

their value becomes higher, and travellers are inclined to lie awake and

wonder how their fathers and elder brothers managed to travel in the

pre-Pullman era.

Life is too short to limit travel on this continent to the daytime.

Travelling eight hours a day by rail, which we in England think a pretty

good allowance, it would take just five days to go from Montreal to

Halifax. Thanks to the Pullman car and its adequate sleeping

accommodation, a business man may leave Montreal at ten o'clock at

night, say on Monday, and be in Halifax in time to transact business

shortly after noon on Wednesday. Thus he loses only a day, for he must

sleep somewhere, and he might find many a worse bed than is made up for

him on a Pullman. The arrangements for ventilation leave nothing to be

desired save a little less apprehension on the part of Canadians of the

supposed malign influence of fresh air. If you can get the ventilators

kept open you may sleep with impunity. But, as far as a desire for

preserving the goodwill of my immediate neighbours controls me, I would,

being in Canada, as soon pick a pocket as open a window. One night,

before the beds were made up I secretly approached the coloured

gentleman in charge of the carriage and heavily bribed him to open the

ventilators. This he faithfully did, as I saw, but when I awoke this

morning, half stifled in the heavy atmosphere, I found every ventilator

closed.

After leaving Quebec, and for a far-reaching run, the railway skirts the

river St. Lawrence, of which we get glimpses near and far as we pass.

The time is not far distant when this mighty river will be frozen to the

distance of fully a mile out, and men may skate where Atlantic steamers

sail. At present the river is free, but the frost comes like a thief in

the night, and the wary shipmasters have already gone into winter

quarters. The railway people are also preparing for the too familiar

terrors of the Canadian winter. As we steamed out of Quebec we saw the

snow-ploughs conveniently shunted, ready for use at a moment's notice.

The snowsheds are a permanent institution on the Intercolonial Railway.

The train passes through them sometimes for the length of half a mile.

They are simply wooden erections like a box, built in parts of the line

where the snow is likely to drift. Passing swiftly through them just now

you catch glimmers of light through the crevices. Presently, when the

snow comes, these will be effectually closed up. Snow will lie a hundred

feet thick on either side, to the full height of the shed, and the

train, as watched from the line, will seem to vanish in an illimitable

snow mound.

This is as yet in the future. At present the landscape has all the

beauty that snow can give without the monotony of the unrelieved waste

of white. Mounds of brown earth, tufts of grass, bits of road, roofs of

houses, and belts of pine showing above the sprinkling of snow, give

colour to the landscape. One divines already why Canadians, in building

their houses, paint a door, or a side of a chimney, or a gable-end, red

or chocolate, whilst all the rest is white. This looks strange in the

summer, or in the bleak interregnum when neither the sun nor the

north-east wind can be said absolutely to reign. But in the winter, when

far as the eye can roam it is wearied with sight of the everlasting

snow, a patch of red or of warm brown on the scarcely less white houses

is a surprising relief.

The country in the neighbourhood of Rivière du Loup, where the Grand

Trunk finishes and the Intercolonial begins, is filled with comfortable

homesteads. The line runs through a valley between two ranges of hills.

All about the slopes on the river side stand snug little houses, each

within its own grounds, each having a peaked roof, which strives more or

less effectually to rival the steepness of its neighbour. The houses

straggle for miles down the line, as if they had started out from Quebec

with the intention of founding a town for themselves, and had stopped on

the way, beguiled by the beauty of the situation. Sometimes a little

group stand together, when be sure you shall find a church, curiously

small but exceedingly ornate in its architecture. The spires are coated

with a glazed tile, which catches whatever sunlight there may be about,

and glistens strangely in the landscape.

The first day following the first night of our journey closed in a

manner befitting its rare beauty. The sun went down amid a glow of

grandeur that illuminated all the world to the west, transfigured the

blue mountains veined with snow, and spread a soft roseate blush over

the white lowlands. We went to bed in New Brunswick still in the hilly

country named by the colonists Northumberland. We awoke to find

ourselves in the narrow neck of land which connects Nova Scotia with the

continent. It was like going to bed in Sweden in December, and waking in

Ireland in September. The snow was melted, the sun was hidden behind the

one thin cloud that spread from horizon to horizon, and the sharp, brisk

air of yesterday was exchanged for a cold, wet atmosphere, that

distilled itself in dank drops on the window-panes. The aspect of the

country was also changed. The ground was sodden, the grass brown with

perpetual wet. In one field we saw the hapless haycocks floating in

water. Thus it was through Nova Scotia into Halifax--water everywhere on

the ground, and threatening rain in the air.

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