« AnteriorContinuar »
ALL railroad systems are perplexing to a stranger, and the American is about the most. What with State divisions, and impassable rivers, and competing lines, and the enormous distances you have to travel over, it would be hard to steer one's course aright through the railroad labyrinth, even if you had available local timetables to steer by. But what makes the matter worse is, that nowhere except at the railway stations, and not always there, can you find any time-table at all. There is no revealed evidence as to American railroads, and so you have to base your faith on natural laws, and support it by undesigned coincidences from the reports of hotel-keepers and fellow-travellers. Still, as in matters of more importance, knowledge so derived is not conclusive, and you may possibly argue falsely.
I myself was a case in point. On the walls of the Galt House at Louisville, there hung an advertisement, brilliant with all the colours of the rainbow, stating in every variety of type that the shortest route to Cairo, St. Louis, Kansas, and the Pacific Ocean was by the Ohio and Mississippi and Illinois Central, and that the express train started nightly at eight o'clock. The report was confirmed by collateral testimony on the part of the landlord, and trusting to it I set forth on my journey, under the belief that, barring accidents, I should be carried to my destination without unnecessary stoppage. The train was in truth an express one, and throughout the night I slept luxuriously in the sleeping cars, rocked to sleep, not unpleasantly, by the swaying motion of the train as we dashed onwards through the level lands of Indiana.
But joy in this instance did not come with the morning. It is not pleasant at any time to be woke up at five A.M.; still less to be tumbled out, chilled, halfawake, and out of humour, on the platform of a lonely road-side junction; and least of all to be then and there informed that the branch train does not leave for fourteen hours. The fact was, that, according to the appropriate American phrase, “I had not made good connexions,” and the result of my error was, that I had to spend a livelong broiling summer day at Odin Junction. In the “Dame aux Perles” of the younger Dumas there is a long account of how the artist-hero, in his hunt after the pearl-clad duchess, was detained (if I remember rightly, by want of funds) for some awful period at a railway junction in the plains of Galicia. The story had well-nigh faded out of my memory, but as I stood there, shivering on the platform of Odin City Junction, the whole narrative rose to my mind, and I recalled with dismal distinctness how the luckless Oscar or Adolphe loitered about that dreary lonely station, where there was nothing to read, nobody to speak to, nothing to do, nowhere to walk, nothing even to watch for except the arrival and departure of the trains. There may seem no great hardship in being kept a day in a strange place, when you can spend some hours at least in strolling about and making yourself acquainted with it; but the fatal peculiarity of my case was, that when you had once walked up and down the platform you literally knew the whole country as well as if you had been settled there for years. It is impossible to conceive a country more hopelessly and irredeemably flat and bare and unbroken. As far as the eye could reach, the rich green pasture-lands of Illinois stretched away unchequered by a single tree, like the surface of a vast billiard-board. I have read somewhere that when you stand on the sea-shore you can see fifteen miles of water ahead. If so, from the platform of the station, which was raised a foot or so above the ground, you must have seen fifteen miles of plain in every direction. In the far distance, on either side of the line, there rose a grey belt of trees where the prairie ended and the swamps began; but this belt, and the telegraph poles, and a score or two of scattered houses, were the only objects which rose above the dead level. The narrow single track of the railroad seemed to be drawn out like a line of wire till it dwindled out of sight, the two furthest points visible at either extremity being in one straight line with the spot on which I stood, and for miles and miles away you could watch the railway trains after they had left the station.
In half a dozen years there will probably be a large town at Odin Junction, and already, as the inhabitants told me, the city had made a surprising start ; but as yet it required an American's faith in the doctrine of development to foresee the coming greatness of Odin. You could number its houses on the one hand. There was the station, the hotel, one settler's house alongside, and two shells of houses—all wooden by the way-in the process of building. Within a walk you could see about as many more scattered over the fields. And this was all. The odd fact, however, about this, as about all new American settlements, was, that it had not to develop from a village into a town; but that it has started into existence as the fragment of a city. So, here in Odin (why the Junction should be named after the Northern god I could not discover), there was an hotel large enough for a town of a thousand inhabitants. The one completed settler's house was as pretty and comfortable a cottage ornée, with its snow-white hall and green Venetian blinds and neat outhouses, as you would see in Boston; and the two houses in the course of building will be, when finished, of a like size and look. The ground was already marked out for the church and the schoolhouse; and you could see that the buildings were carefully arranged so as to form the main street, with the railroad passing through it. When that is finished, there will run out Walnut and Chestnut Streets parallel to it, intersected at right angles by the numbered thoroughfares, and the houses now built or building will take their places naturally in Odin city.
It must not be presumed, however, that the whole of these reflections were made upon the platform. Odin Junction, like many other things in America, turned out better on near acquaintance than at first sight. The hotel, like all hotels in the Free States, was clean and comfortable, and as the owners were Germans the cooking was wholesome. Somehow or other the day passed lazily. We breakfasted at six, dined at twelve, had tea at six, and supped at eight. All these were strong substantial meals, each the counterpart of the other, and consisting of steaks, eggs, ham, cakes, and coffee. Our company at table was composed of one or two travellers detained like myself, of the railway officials, guards, clerks, and porters, of the workmen who were putting up the houses hard by, and of the landlord's family. Eating took up a good deal of time, and the process of digestion occupied a good deal more, and watching the new houses building was a quiet and not laborious amusement. The builder was an English