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Despair's Last Journey   By: (1847-1907)

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By David Christie Murray




A solitary passenger alighted from the train, and many people looked curiously after him. The mulatto porter handed to the platform a well battered portmanteau, which was plastered thickly over with luggage labels and the advertising tickets of hotels in every quarter of the globe. A great canvas bag followed, ornamented in like fashion. Then from the baggage van an invisible person tumbled, a canvas bale. The coffee coloured mulatto held out a grayish white palm for the quarter dollar the passenger was ready to drop into it, and stepped back to the platform of the car. The engine bell tolled slowly, as if it sounded a knell, and the train wound away. The curve of the line carried it out of sight in less than a minute, but in the clear mountain air the quickened ringing of the bell, the pant of the engine, and the roll of the wheels were audible for a long time. Then the engine, with a final wail of good bye, plunged into the tunnel of a distant snow shed, and the whole region seemed as quiet as a grave.

The little weatherboard railside station was void of life, and there was not a soul in sight. The passenger had given up the ticket for his sleeping berth an hour before, and had announced his intention to stop over at this lonely place. An altercation with the conductor as to the possibility of releasing the canvas bale from the baggage van before it arrived at its expressed destination at Vancouver had reached the ears of other travellers who were on duty in the observation car, painfully conscious of the scenery and the obligations it imposed. To experience some ecstasy, more or less, was imperative, and it was weary work for most of them. They stuck to it manfully and woman fully, with abysmal furtive yawns; but the skirmish between the conductor and their fellow passenger came as a sort of godsend, and when the transfer of a dollar bill, incredibly dirty and greasy and tattered, had brought warfare to a close, they still had the voluntary exile to stare at. He was a welcome change from scenery, and they stared hard.

He was a city man to look at, and had the garb of cities tall silk hat, well worn, but well brushed; frock coat in similar condition; dark gray trousers, a little trodden at the heels; patent leather boots; high collar; silken scarf. Everything he wore was slightly shabby, except his linen; but a millionaire who was disposed to be careless about his dress might have gone so attired. People had a habit of looking twice at this passenger, for he bore an air of being somebody; but the universal stare which fastened on him as the train steamed away was the result of his intent to deliver himself (at evident caprice) at a place so lonely, and so curiously out of accord with his own aspect. What was a clean shaven man of cities, with silk hat, and frock coat, and patent leathers, doing at Beaver Tail, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains? Why had he suddenly decided to stay there, of all places in the world? And why had he made up his mind without having so much as seen the place? These questions kept the occupants of the observation car in better talk than scenery long after the lonely passenger had landed, and long after the last wail of the engine had sounded in his ears.

If he had come here in search of landscape splendours, he might have had his fill at once. The railside shanty stood at a height of some four thousand feet above sea level, but the mountains heaved vast shoulders and white heads about him.

Below, in the tremendous gorge, a torrent ran recklessly, tearing at its rocky confines with raging hands, and crying out in many voices like a multitude bent on some deed of vengeance hurrying, delaying, turning on itself, maddening itself. Its bellowing seemed a part of universal silence... Continue reading book >>

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