“Ah! but what will it grow to?” said Delaine, drily. “Is Winnipeg going to be interesting?—is it going to matter?”
“Come and look at the Emigration Offices,” laughed Elizabeth for answer.
And he found himself dragged through room after room of the great building, and standing by while Elizabeth, guided by an official who seemed to hide a more than Franciscan brotherliness under the aspects of a canny Scot, and helped by an interpreter, made her way into the groups of home-seekers crowding round the clerks and counters of the lower room—English, Americans, Swedes, Dutchmen, Galicians, French Canadians. Some men, indeed, who were actually hanging over maps, listening to the directions and information of the officials, were far too busy to talk to tourists, but there were others who had finished their business, or were still waiting their turn, and among them, as also among the women, the little English lady found many willing to talk to her.
And what courage, what vivacity she threw into the business! Delaine, who had seen her till now as a person whose natural reserve was rather displayed than concealed by her light agreeable manner, who had often indeed had cause to wonder where and what might be the real woman, followed her from group to group in a silent astonishment. Between these people—belonging to the primitive earth-life—and herself, there seemed to be some sudden intuitive sympathy which bewildered him; whether she talked to some Yankee farmer from the Dakotas, long-limbed, lantern-jawed, all the moisture dried out of him by hot summers, hard winters, and long toil, who had come over the border with a pocket full of money, the proceeds of prairie-farming in a republic, to sink it all joyfully in a new venture under another flag; or to some broad-shouldered English youth from her own north country; or to some hunted Russian from the Steppes, in whose eyes had begun to dawn the first lights of liberty; or to the dark-faced Italians and Frenchmen, to whom she chattered in their own tongues.
An Indian reserve of good land had just been thrown open to settlers. The room was thronged. But Elizabeth was afraid of no one; and no one repulsed her. The high official who took them through, lingered over the process, busy as the morning was, all for the beaux yeux of Elizabeth; and they left him pondering by what legerdemain he could possibly so manipulate his engagements that afternoon as to join Lady Merton’s tea-party.
“Well, that was quite interesting!” said Delaine as they emerged.
Elizabeth, however, would certainly have detected the perfunctoriness of the tone, and the hypocrisy of the speech, had she had any thoughts to spare.
But her face showed her absorbed.
“Isn’t it amazing!” Her tone was quiet, her eyes on the ground.
“Yet, after all, the world has seen a good many emigrations in its day!” remarked Delaine, not without irritation.