GEORGE MAKES FRIENDS
It was nearing midnight when George walked impatiently up and down the waiting-room in Winnipeg station, for the western express was very late, and nobody seemed to know when it would start. George was nevertheless interested in his surroundings, and with some reason. The great room was built in palatial style, with domed roof, tessellated marble floor, and stately pillars: it was brilliantly lighted; and massively-framed paintings of snow-capped peaks and river gorges adorned the walls. An excursion-train from Winnipeg Beach had just come in, and streams of young men and women in summer attire were passing through the room. They all looked happy and prosperous: he thought the girls’ light dresses were gayer and smarter than those usually seen among a crowd of English passengers; but there was another side to the picture.
Rows of artistic seats ran here and there, and each was occupied by jaded immigrants, worn out by their journey in the sweltering Colonist cars. Piles of dilapidated baggage surrounded them, and among it exhausted children lay asleep. Drowsy, dusty women, with careworn faces, were huddled beside them; men bearing the stamp of ill-paid toil sat in dejected apathy; and all about each group the floor, which was wet with drippings from the roof, was strewn with banana skins, crumbs, and scraps of food. There had been heavy rains, and the atmosphere was hot and humid. It was, however, the silence of these newcomers that struck George most. There was no grumbling among them—they scarcely seemed vigorous enough for that—but as he passed one row he heard a woman’s low sobbing and the wail of a fretful child.
After a while the girl he had met on the train appeared and intimated by a smile that he might join her. They found an unoccupied seat, and a smartly-attired young man who was approaching it stopped when he saw them.
“Well,” he said coolly, “I guess I won’t intrude.”
George felt seriously annoyed with him, but he was reassured when his companion laughed with candid amusement. Though there was no doubt of her prettiness, he had already noticed that she did not impress one most forcibly with the fact that she was an attractive young woman. It seemed to sink into the background when one spoke to her.
“It was rather tedious waiting in the hotel,” she explained. “There was nobody I could talk to; my father is busy with a grain broker.”
“Then he is a farmer?”
“Yes,” said the girl, “he has a farm.”
“And you live out in the West with him?”
“Of course,” she said, smiling. “Still, I have been in Montreal, and England.” Then she turned and glanced at the jaded immigrants. “One feels sorry for them; they have so much to bear.”
George felt that she wished to change the subject, and he followed her lead.