CANADIAN SPECIAL ARTICLES

A New Town for an Old One

Augustus Bridle March 1 1911
CANADIAN SPECIAL ARTICLES

A New Town for an Old One

Augustus Bridle March 1 1911

A New Town for an Old One

Augustus Bridle

IN a thousand years Highton had accumulated forty thousand people, a slum, and thirteen charitable organizations; a mile of elegant little shops, four parish churches, one castle frowning over the town and one cathedral that had the ancestral qualities of all the other things summed up in a single poem of stone, history and imagination. Within the memory of living man nothing had ever been started in Highton except an epidemic of measles, a fire and five charity bazars. The fire was the only thing that failed to flourish, for the walls of Highton were all of stone a foot thick, and the only thing that was really singed was a thatched roof near the suburbs.

Of course Highton was a cathedral town, and that in England is a peculiarity. Ordinarily it means that in most essential respects the cathedral runs the town. At any rate the Dean of Highton Cathedral was counted the first citizen; after him at all feasting functions of the mayor came the bishop, then the mavor, next the sheriff—and the rest were canons, probendaries, lay readers and a scramble of parish clergy, two editors, the town clerk, bailiffs, mace bearers and common citizens.

Now most of these functionaries were not merely born; certainly they were not made: and just as surely they were “descended.” Everything of any consequence in Highton had to show pedigree. The castle on the hill was built by liegemen of William the Conqueror. At the Guildhall there were four silver maces, the bearers of whom began to figure at public functions a good many hundreds of years ago. But if the first bearers of those four historic maces had any points in solemn behavior not practised by the present quartette they must have been set to a dead march.

Before tracing the labyrinth of pedigrees, however, it might be as well to say that if there was one man in Highton who kowtowed every day of his comfortable life to the things that were and that had been and which were to come, it was old Thomas Snippett, private banker, real estate vendor, broker, valuator, assignee and—well there has been some newspaper talk of persons in our prairie towns who had a large number of functions as though that were a mark of democracy: yet here was Thomas Snippett of Highton who had a round dozen of business titles and practised every one of them every day with the aid of his two sons, one of whom was Reginald. And if there was a young man in that almost prehistoric little city who had got weary of the whole pedigreed show it was Reginald.

But of course the Snippett business was peculiar. Primarily it was based on the fact that Thomas Snippett knew the boundaries, confines, extent, present value and past history of every glebe, moorland, bailiwick and hedgerow within a ten mile drive any direction from the cathedral tower. So did his father before him, who got the business in the same stand—No. 24 Topley Circus —from his father again, and so ou back and back till it was family tradition that once upon a time a remote ancestor had some sort of shop where he sold things and did his financial business on the side. If Thomas Snippett had ever moved his signs two doors up the Circus he would have expected to lose half his busrness because his clients never would have found him: though, thank God ! there was no need of that, for in all his lifetime there had been nothing new on that circus and so far as he could see there never would need to be.

One thine — r. Snippett had never tolerated in his oñiee: that was a typewriter. He did all his correspondence by sleight of hand and the letters he and his sons wrote were models of penmanship. Every evening before going to bed he held a conference with his sons on the transactions of the day. They sat in the dining room, upstairs, sipping rare old port, smoking—thanks to young Reginald, cigars if you please!—and the old gentleman patiently listened to each boy relating the intimate details of each conversation, letter and telephone message carried on since morning in the office downstairs. The telephone i>ir. Snippett had put in very reluctantly; for he had a notion that any man might talk double when his face was invisible. He had also diligently opposed the introduction of electric trams on the streets. 1 lighten was beginning to get gidd”.

The family had a most delectable sort of life. Young Reginald had been the only one to suggest any violent change in the poetic sequence when he intimated to his father that real estate values had really so advanced on the Circus the past

few years—as a matter of fact it was about five per cent.—that it would pay better to rent the two storeys for offices and build' a house in the suburbs.

“No!” was the old man’s invariable answer. “It’s better to be close to the office! Think of the time we save—” “Yes, but the trolleys—”

“What’s that you say? Trolleys? I say—you’re not forgetting—trams?” “Well, trams if you like. Anyhow they’d get here in a jiff.”

Whereat, Mrs. Snippett—lovable old lady with a dinky little lace head-dress and intermindable crotchetings and teasippings in the library—pretended to be amazed: whereas she was really just dying to get out to the suburbs.

“My dear,” shouted Mr. Snippett banging down his glass of old port—best of a century old, bargain lot he had picked up bv the cask somewhere—“think of it! Would you be able to sleep—a mile from the office? Then you’ve much more faith in thieving humanity than I have.” Candidly, there had not been a robbery in High ton for at least nineteen years. There had never been a real promiscuous

dög-fight which would have been very much out of order. Once a man had been observed running up the street, but it was supposed he must either have been going to a fire or a doctor or else he was plainly demented.

“Besides,” concluded Mr. Snippett, “we should be a half hour’s walk from the cathedral. Bless my life !”

Whereat he dogmatically took snuff ; settled it—the Snippett household never should be divorced from the Snippett business, at least while he lived, which he hoped and trusted would be a good while yet, for he could still drink as much wine and as many brandies and sodas in a night as either of his sons ; though it was young Reginald who had inaugurated the brandy and soda and had even gone in for a casual domestic cocktail—absurdly American !

Otherwise the Snippett home was beautifully, almost pathetically English. Every morning the demurest of all maids ported to each room a tray of biscuits and tea, silently picked up each pair of

boots, polished them and set them carefully at. each door at precisely the same minute and in the same order every morning—except when

Mr. Snippett went once a fortnight to halfafter-seven service in the lady chapel at the east end of the cathedral. The beds were all historic fourposters, with impressive curtains, amazing breadth and depth and an abundance of dimity. There were mantels and mirrors and tabarets and couches and go-as-you-please commodities in every room. Every afternoon at four, Mr. Snippett took tea in the office, so that from the first peep of morn till the last sip of port at night, life was a lovely, semidomesticated routine, as comfortable as a kitten by a fireside. Thomas Snippett had a pride in his home and his business ; and he could say without fear of contradiction that there had never been a day when he had missed his wine or got his wrong slippers or sent a wrong letter to a client; nor a year when he had gone behind in his business.

“Yes, but how much do we get ahead?” queried discontented Reginald. “About one per cent, per annum.”

“Bless me, And isn’t that enough?” snapped the elder. “What more would you want? Surelv—vou don’t intend

to—”

“Get rich quick, father? Oh no! Ods

bodikins, no! That would be so verywell if not un-English at least very unlike Ilighton, wouldn’t it now?”

Thomas never liked the tone of banter in his younger son’s voice; didn’t like the wav he muttered to the stag hound or the indiscreet way in which he frequently went out motoring instead of riding the horse bought on purpose for him; and as for driving the family trap—well, Reggie never had done so since getting out of knickers. Ilis conduct was quite unexplainable even though twice a year regularly he broke out and ran up to London on the flyer; the last time or so insisting on spending six bob recklessly on one of those new-fangled sleeping apartments which was a sure sign that some parts of England at least were becoming woefully Americanized.

In fact there were all too many obvious evidences to the elder Snippett that Highton was becoming painfully modern. Tourists were coming as never before ; noisy, rushing folk that wanted to see everything in an hour. Of course they were Americans—possibly some of them Canadians, though it was all one to Mr. Snippett who had never seen even a map of Canada. All he knew definitely about Canada was that it was bounded north by the Arctic sea and that C.P.R. was a rather better investment than Hudson’s Bay Company. At any rate Highton was much too beautiful and profoundly historic for such people to presume to see it in less than a week. Heavens! was it not A thousand years since the vassals of William the Conqueror built the castle on the hill? The two swords in the Guildhall, were thev not worn respectively by Edward the Fourth and Warwick the Kingmaker? In the showcase at the hall there were documents in parchment, quill-illuminated, showing how the great William had carried on his first operations in real estate when he compiled the Doomsday Book. Besides there were the four ancient silver maces — ah, and if all that were burned to-morrow there was the cathedral, the blessed, imperishable eastle of historic religion first built in the Norman style, as for instance the two great central towers which the clergy had built in the dav when the barons on the hills were putting up castles and the men of God had to do likewise. Time had been, too. when Crom-

well of impious memory had stabled his godless horses in that very cathedral; when the old clock built in the mist of the middle ages had been torn apart and scattered—till, blessed be fate ! some pious discoverer, but a few years ago, had gone about to collect dilligently every part and parcel of the old timepiece and had articulated them so skilfully that to-day the clock tells the hour, the minutes and the day of the month to the boom of the great cathedral bell.

All which had been ding-donged into Reginald’s ears since he had been a choirboy up in the mysterious stone loft at the side of the nave—which was on great festivals like Christmas and Easter. He knew every crypt, cranny and cloister in the great old pile ; the number of misereres in the choir; almost the very carvings on the great oaken throne of the bishop, the brass tablets in the stone floor, the images in the niches, the armors on the walls and the difference between stained glass of the eleventh and glass of the fourteenth century. He knew every lane and old wall in the town; every shop and facade and panel of carven oak—and it was all very delightful, should have been interesting enough to have kept him in Highton till he became a grandfather.

But Reggie had a bad habit of reading the newspapers; not merely for social gossip and the stock quotations feit rattier more on account of the news from a place called Canada. For the past few years he had noticed how the things about Canada had been getting into the headlines. Scarcely a copy of the London dailies but had a column or so about the great colony; and of late even the local editor had taken to printing Canadian news.

“I tell you it’s the whole cheese nowadays dad !” he said again and again.

“Stuff and nonsense! Nothing but a frozen Siberia,” argued the old gentleman. “Half the people are Indians and the other half wish their forefathers had never gone to such a place. All this palaver is the work of boomsters—railway and steamship companies. I take no stock in it whatever. If you’re really going abroad —why not go to Australia. That’s English.” J

“Hmm’ More’s the pity—I say.” 1

Reggie seemed bent upon going; in spite of the fact that he was the most pop-

ular young man at all the balls, the bishop’s teas, and the charity bazaars.

“Yes, I’m going, dad! I’m going—to Alberta.”

“Hut tut ! Why that’s where they’re all cowboys and redskins.

“Phew! Say—do you know that there are at least a hundred towns in Alberta; that the capital of Alberta has had a railroad only five years and at that it’s just about as big as Highton, cathedral and all?”

Absurd arguments, even if true. But the day came when Reggie took a farewell scoot round town calling on all his young lady friends who almost tearfully told him what a wild goose he was. Then he packed his luggage—and went; when the flowers of spring were blooming in the dell, the larks warbling over the tapestries of the fields and the whole face of WestEngland a dream of loveliness.

II

The part of Alberta that Reggie got to with his trunks and his portmanteau and his knee breeches and his dinky little cap was nowhere near Edmonton. It was Wabena on a new side line; seen from the train window just a water tank, a sawmill, a hotel and one church. The place where it seemed to have been spilled from the tail of some real estate comet had been nothing but a defunct buffalo pasture a year before Reggie landed there. The town hall was not finished and the firehall was just going up. The hotel had no paper or plaster on the walls and very little that was really civilized except the bar, which didn’t contain any such old port as the Snippetts drank. There was one photograph on the sitting-room shewing how Wabena was started a year ago— with a table, a valise and a man signing over the deed of the land on the open prairie with not even a house in sight.

The only thing that “used to be” at all, was the trail that roped in from the skyline over the long sweeps of the lazy hills, took a hitch down the main street and landed up at the hotel. All the rest had been made the day before yesterday.

Reggie drew a long breath—remembering Highton; the streets that crept out of classic lanes and wound out into smooth country roads beskirt with hedgewalls with flowers atop, past Highbury Trim and

Westmeath and Kingscross and then never out of sight of some little town as big as two Wabenas. But he put up at the hotel, took a stroll up the street and counted the buildings. There were just twenty-nine —including the elevator.

One of them had half a roof on when he rented it and opened up the first real estate office in Wabena. He looked round till he found the printshop, a cross-eyed little shack off in the middle of a bunch of wolf-willows and prairie roses; and he got some letterheads printed—Reginald Snippett, Real Estate, Mortgages and Loans—on which first of all he dated a letter to his distant dad. Then he lighted a fresh cigar and hunted up a paintshop; borrowed a pot of paint and a brush and painted a shingle which he stuck up the very day the roof was finished. Down at the general purpose store where the proprietor kept everything from a paper of pins over the counter, to a self-binder out in the yard, he bought a table and a few chairs and inside of a week he was ready for business.

Then he began to get lonesome. Nobody within a hundred miles of Wabena knew Snippett. There wasn’t a paper in his bare little office to show that he knew a poplar bluff from a buffalo wallow. There was nowhere to go but out to one end of the street. It petered off into the trail, at the police shack and back again to the water tank. At the hotel nothing but cow-men, landseekers, broncho-busters, a few drummers and the town carpenter, the livery-barn man and a gang of geesers running a steam plow half a mile out of town. On a rainy day most of the town got into the hotel; and it was a rummy sort of gathering. There wasn’t a piano in Wabena; neither a tennis net—and if there were any civilized girls they had the knack of keeping out of Reggie’s way except on Sunday when, of course, everybody went to the church.

The Methodist parson had the pulpit one Sunday; the Anglican the next—and he took his surplice out of a little cupboard and put it on in plain view of the whole congregation, all of which could have been stowed away in the little lady chapel at the east end of Highton Cathedral. There was neither organ nor choir. The most conspicuous member of the congregation was the redcoat mounted police-

A corner of the old English town, whence the population of many a new Western Canadian town,

or a cow-boy camp such as illustrated on this page, is often drawn.

While the ivy creeps over the old weather - eaten walls of England, and the sun spills into narrow streets trod by unnumbered generations—the new town

leaps up on land which has been innocent of man kind till recently, and the main street is a buffalo trail.

man. The next was Reggie Snippett, who liad the only tie-pin in the town.

Clearly he was a very different sort of chap from even the other English, most of whom seemed to he a half frowsy lot, more foreign to him than the Scandinavians, the Ruthenians and the Mennonites. There were at least seven languages in Wabena, including Cree—whenever a gang of half breeds came galloping to town on their spotted kyuses, got drunk as often as possible, turned the town into a grand whoop, and almost jumped their ponies over the roofs. Every second individual Reggie met in his office wanted to borrow money to buy steers, and plows and self-binders.

But Reggie was shy of money. It was all he could do to keep his board bill paid at the hotel. But he had no intention of writing home for money. He said to himself that he would yet open his dad’s eyes —concerning Wabena.

Js^ll that summer the place was a clatter flTIntmii.urs and hoofs and wheels; of walk going up, wagons on the trails, trains disgorging settlers’ effects and all manner of curious folk, most of whom hit the trail to the wheat lands over the hills. Reggie had nothing to do but study the thing. Business was impossible. For the first time in his life he had the sensation of feeling a town grow. Wabena grew like a bad weed. Reggie watched every board go up ; almost every nail. He knew the place from the water tank to the mounted police shack. He wasn’t handling real estate and he had no money to loan. Mainly he began to realize that he was a failure. His Highton breeding was a handicap. He had the English way.

But he reckoned he would yet make the old Snippet sit up in his big chair at Highton and take notice. He studied— Wabena; an amazing, unprecedented, unhistoric, disjointed little hugger-muggery that sometimes went clean to sleep, ami sometimes became almost a scream of progress. Reggie knew very well it was growing at such a rate that no letters of his to the elder Snippett would ever cause dad to loosen up on his funds for investment, He also knew that his dad had money earning three and a half per cent, that if invested in Wabena might soon be earning fifty.

Wherefore he schemed; and he got the American way. While other men were whacking up walls and. breaking up the prairie, he was busy—with Pluggitts, the local printer, who was struggling to get out the Wabena Outposter, and didn’t know what on earth to put into it to make good reading: because, to the editor, Wabena was like a lot of other western towns he had been in, and the best he could do was to boost Wabena and knock the others by comparison.

Not so Reggie, to whom Wabena was a total revelation. He saw in that riiinmy little cosmopolis a raft of the most dazzling copy ; and he studied how to do something on behalf of Wabena—and of Reggie Snippett—that certainly had never been done in Wabena before.

His whole idea wTas an extra special edition of the Wabena Outposter which should tell to the rest of the world what an amazing picture of progress the town was.

“My dear sir!” he insisted to Pluggitts when the editor became pessimistic over"" lack of funds and copy and illustrations and almost everything else, “it’s as easy as wink. Here—I’ve got a splendid camera. I’ll photograph every blessed thing in the town that’ll make a good piçturc. I’ve got a few loose dollars. Now I’ll take a run up to Edmonton and get a whole raft of cuts made—and fetch them back. I’ve got acres of copy ready to stick up in type. You go ahead and stick it up.

I • you we’ll get out an edition of the Outposter that’ll make ’m talk in their sleep.”

The first self-binder was reeling Off the wheat half a mile from Wabena* 'when Reggie and the editor went to. press with the last form of the special edition of the Outposter. A sixteen-page_ illustrated special extra that had in it a living picture of the town, portraits of all the leading citizens and write-ups of the same— all paid for, of course—advertisements enough to cover the cost and leave the printer a small margin—and, not least, a picture of Mr. Reginald Snippett, whom the editor called one of the most enterprising citizens of Wabena.

When that job was done, and Reggie got the first throbbing copy of the new world into his grip, he felt like a discoverer. By the very first mail he sent five

copies of the thing home ‘to Mr. Thomas Snippett, 24 Topley Circus.

Then he waited: knowing right well what a turmoil that document would stir up in the Snippett household.

It was just on the edge of frost when Reggie got a letter from Highton; and the most interesting part of it read:

“My boy, you seem to have demonstrated that you have an abundance of enterprise. Evidently you are already the leading citizen of Wabena—wherever that is. But-1 know very well you have not been doing much at real estate or mortgages and loans. Now I am convinced that Wabena is a good town. I’m willing to set you up with funds immediately. You open up the finest real estate office in the town. Get hold of every good thing you can buy. And tell your leading citizens

that if they are in need of some one to purchase their civic debentures—to write to Thomas Snippett per Mr. Reginald Snippet.

Your loving father,

Thomas Snippett.”

Wabena is a tidy little city now. The wealthiest man and the most incurable westerner in the town is Mr. Reginald Snippett, who to-day gets credit for the real discovery of Wabena to the outside world—whereas he and the editor very well know that Wabena would have boomed itself in spite of them both.

Reggie was mayor of Wabena last year. Next year he will go home to Highton —under the cathedral—to round up a shipload of new citizens for the wheat country around Wabena.