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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock

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non-partisan post-office, built on a piece of ground of a strictly
non-partisan character, and constructed under contracts that were
not tainted and smirched with party affiliation. Two or three men
were willing to show to Drone just where a piece of ground of this
character could be bought. They told him too that in the matter of
the postmastership itself they had nothing against Trelawney, the
present postmaster, in any personal sense, and would say nothing
against him except merely that he was utterly and hopelessly unfit
for his job and that if Drone believed, as he had said he did, in a
purified civil service, he ought to begin by purifying Trelawney.

Already Edward Drone was beginning to feel something of what it meant
to hold office and there was creeping into his manner the quiet
self-importance which is the first sign of conscious power.

In fact, in that brief half-hour of office, Drone had a chance to see
something of what it meant. Henry McGinnis came to him and asked
straight out for a job as federal census-taker on the ground that he
was hard up and had been crippled with rheumatism all winter. Nelson
Williamson asked for the post of wharf master on the plea that he had
been laid up with sciatica all winter and was absolutely fit for
nothing. Erasmus Archer asked him if he could get his boy Pete into
one of the departments at Ottawa, and made a strong case of it by
explaining that he had tried his cussedest to get Pete a job anywhere
else and it was simply impossible. Not that Pete wasn't a willing
boy, but he was slow,--even his father admitted it,--slow as the
devil, blast him, and with no head for figures and unfortunately he'd
never had the schooling to bring him on. But if Drone could get him
in at Ottawa, his father truly believed it would be the very place
for him. Surely in the Indian Department or in the Astronomical
Branch or in the New Canadian Navy there must be any amount of
opening for a boy like this? And to all of these requests Drone found
himself explaining that he would take the matter under his very
earnest consideration and that they must remember that he had to
consult his colleagues and not merely follow the dictates of his own
wishes. In fact, if he had ever in his life had any envy of Cabinet
Ministers, he lost it in this hour.

But Drone's hour was short. Even before the poll had closed in
Mariposa, the news came sweeping in, true or false, that Bagshaw was
carrying the county. The second concession had gone for Bagshaw in a
regular landslide, six votes to only two for Smith,--and all down the
township line road (where the hay farms are) Bagshaw was said to be
carrying all before him.

Just as soon as that news went round the town, they launched the
Mariposa band of the Knights of Pythias (every man in it is a
Liberal) down the Main Street with big red banners in front of it
with the motto BAGSHAW FOREVER in letters a foot high. Such rejoicing
and enthusiasm began to set in as you never saw. Everybody crowded
round Bagshaw on the steps of the Mariposa House and shook his
hand and said they were proud to see the day and that the Liberal
party was the glory of the Dominion and that as for this idea of
non-partisan politics the very thought of it made them sick. Right
away in the committee rooms they began to organize the demonstration
for the evening with lantern slides and speeches and they arranged
for a huge bouquet to be presented to Bagshaw on the platform by four
little girls (all Liberals) all dressed in white.

And it was just at this juncture, with one hour of voting left, that
Mr. Smith emerged from his committee rooms and turned his voters on
the town, much as the Duke of Wellington sent the whole line to the
charge at Waterloo. From every committee room and sub-committee room
they poured out in flocks with blue badges fluttering on their coats.

"Get at it, boys," said Mr. Smith, "vote and keep on voting till they
make you quit."

Then he turned to his campaign assistant. "Billy," he said, "wire
down to the city that I'm elected by an overwhelming majority and
tell them to wire it right back. Send word by telephone to all the
polling places in the county that the hull town has gone solid
Conservative and tell them to send the same news back here. Get
carpenters and tell them to run up a platform in front of the hotel;
tell them to take the bar door clean off its hinges and be all ready
the minute the poll quits."

It was that last hour that did it. Just as soon as the big posters
went up in the windows of the Mariposa Newspacket with the
telegraphic despatch that Josh Smith was reported in the city to be
elected, and was followed by the messages from all over the county,
the voters hesitated no longer. They had waited, most of them, all
through the day, not wanting to make any error in their vote, but
when they saw the Smith men crowding into the polls and heard the
news from the outside, they went solid in one great stampede, and by
the time the poll was declared closed at five o'clock there was no
shadow of doubt that the county was saved and that Josh Smith was
elected for Missinaba.

I wish you could have witnessed the scene in Mariposa that evening.
It would have done your heart good,--such joy, such public rejoicing
as you never saw. It turned out that there wasn't really a Liberal in
the whole town and that there never had been. They were all
Conservatives and had been for years and years. Men who had voted,
with pain and sorrow in their hearts, for the Liberal party for
twenty years, came out that evening and owned up straight that they
were Conservatives. They said they could stand the strain no longer
and simply had to confess. Whatever the sacrifice might mean, they
were prepared to make it.

Even Mr. Golgotha Gingham, the undertaker, came out and admitted that
in working for John Henry Bagshaw he'd been going straight against
his conscience. He said that right from the first he had had his
misgivings. He said it had haunted him. Often at night when he would
be working away quietly, one of these sudden misgivings would
overcome him so that he could hardly go on with his embalming. Why,
it appeared that on the very first day when reciprocity was proposed,
he had come home and said to Mrs. Gingham that he thought it simply
meant selling out the country. And the strange thing was that ever
so many others had just the same misgivings. Trelawney admitted that
he had said to Mrs. Trelawney that it was madness, and Jeff Thorpe,
the barber, had, he admitted, gone home to his dinner, the first day
reciprocity was talked of, and said to Mrs. Thorpe that it would
simply kill business in the country and introduce a cheap, shoddy,
American form of haircut that would render true loyalty impossible.
To think that Mrs. Gingham and Mrs. Trelawney and Mrs. Thorpe had
known all this for six months and kept quiet about it! Yet I think
there were a good many Mrs. Ginghams in the country. It is merely
another proof that no woman is fit for politics.

The demonstration that night in Mariposa will never be forgotten. The
excitement in the streets, the torchlights, the music of the band of
the Knights of Pythias (an organization which is conservative in all
but name), and above all the speeches and the patriotism.

They had put up a big platform in front of the hotel, and on it were
Mr. Smith and his chief workers, and behind them was a perfect forest
of flags. They presented a huge bouquet of flowers to Mr. Smith,
handed to him by four little girls in white,--the same four that I
spoke of above, for it turned out that they were all Conservatives.

Then there were the speeches. Judge Pepperleigh spoke and said that
there was no need to dwell on the victory that they had achieved,
because it was history; there was no occasion to speak of what part
he himself had played, within the limits of his official position,
because what he had done was henceforth a matter of history; and
Nivens, the lawyer, said that he would only say just a few words,
because anything that he might have done was now history; later
generations, he said, might read it but it was not for him to speak
of it, because it belonged now to the history of the country. And,
after them, others spoke in the same strain and all refused
absolutely to dwell on the subject (for more than half an hour) on
the ground that anything that they might have done was better left
for future generations to investigate. And no doubt this was very
true, as to some things, anyway.

Mr. Smith, of course, said nothing. He didn't have to,--not for four
years,--and he knew it.


L'Envoi. The Train to Mariposa

It leaves the city every day about five o'clock in the evening, the
train for Mariposa.

Strange that you did not know of it, though you come from the little
town--or did, long years ago.

Odd that you never knew, in all these years, that the train was there
every afternoon, puffing up steam in the city station, and that you
might have boarded it any day and gone home. No, not "home,"--of
course you couldn't call it "home" now; "home" means that big red
sandstone house of yours in the costlier part of the city. "Home"
means, in a way, this Mausoleum Club where you sometimes talk with me
of the times that you had as a boy in Mariposa.

But of course "home" would hardly be the word you would apply to the
little town, unless perhaps, late at night, when you'd been sitting
reading in a quiet corner somewhere such a book as the present one.

Naturally you don't know of the Mariposa train now. Years ago, when
you first came to the city as a boy with your way to make, you knew
of it well enough, only too well. The price of a ticket counted in
those days, and though you knew of the train you couldn't take it,
but sometimes from sheer homesickness you used to wander down to the
station on a Friday afternoon after your work, and watch the Mariposa
people getting on the train and wish that you could go.

Why, you knew that train at one time better, I suppose, than any
other single thing in the city, and loved it too for the little town
in the sunshine that it ran to.

Do you remember how when you first began to make money you used to
plan that just as soon as you were rich, really rich, you'd go back
home again to the little town and build a great big house with a fine
verandah,--no stint about it, the best that money could buy, planed
lumber, every square foot of it, and a fine picket fence in front of

It was to be one of the grandest and finest houses that thought could
conceive; much finer, in true reality, than that vast palace of
sandstone with the porte cochere and the sweeping conservatories that
you afterwards built in the costlier part of the city.

But if you have half forgotten Mariposa, and long since lost the way
to it, you are only like the greater part of the men here in this
Mausoleum Club in the city. Would you believe it that practically
every one of them came from Mariposa once upon a time, and that there
isn't one of them that doesn't sometimes dream in the dull quiet of
the long evening here in the club, that some day he will go back and
see the place.

They all do. Only they're half ashamed to own it.

Ask your neighbour there at the next table whether the partridge that
they sometimes serve to you here can be compared for a moment to the
birds that he and you, or he and some one else, used to shoot as boys
in the spruce thickets along the lake. Ask him if he ever tasted duck
that could for a moment be compared to the black ducks in the rice
marsh along the Ossawippi. And as for fish, and fishing,--no, don't
ask him about that, for if he ever starts telling you of the chub
they used to catch below the mill dam and the green bass that used to
lie in the water-shadow of the rocks beside the Indian's Island, not
even the long dull evening in this club would be long enough for the
telling of it.

But no wonder they don't know about the five o'clock train for
Mariposa. Very few people know about it. Hundreds of them know that
there is a train that goes out at five o'clock, but they mistake it.
Ever so many of them think it's just a suburban train. Lots of people
that take it every day think it's only the train to the golf grounds,
but the joke is that after it passes out of the city and the suburbs
and the golf grounds, it turns itself little by little into the
Mariposa train, thundering and pounding towards the north with
hemlock sparks pouring out into the darkness from the funnel of it.

Of course you can't tell it just at first. All those people that are
crowding into it with golf clubs, and wearing knickerbockers and flat
caps, would deceive anybody. That crowd of suburban people going home
on commutation tickets and sometimes standing thick in the aisles,
those are, of course, not Mariposa people. But look round a little
bit and you'll find them easily enough. Here and there in the crowd
those people with the clothes that are perfectly all right and yet
look odd in some way, the women with the peculiar hats and the--what
do you say?--last year's fashions? Ah yes, of course, that must be

Anyway, those are the Mariposa people all right enough. That man
with the two-dollar panama and the glaring spectacles is one of the
greatest judges that ever adorned the bench of Missinaba County. That
clerical gentleman with the wide black hat, who is explaining to the
man with him the marvellous mechanism of the new air brake (one of
the most conspicuous illustrations of the divine structure of the
physical universe), surely you have seen him before. Mariposa people!
Oh yes, there are any number of them on the train every day.

But of course you hardly recognize them while the train is still
passing through the suburbs and the golf district and the outlying
parts of the city area. But wait a little, and you will see that when
the city is well behind you, bit by bit the train changes its
character. The electric locomotive that took you through the city
tunnels is off now and the old wood engine is hitched on in its
place. I suppose, very probably, you haven't seen one of these wood
engines since you were a boy forty years ago,--the old engine with a
wide top like a hat on its funnel, and with sparks enough to light up
a suit for damages once in every mile.

Do you see, too, that the trim little cars that came out of the city
on the electric suburban express are being discarded now at the way
stations, one by one, and in their place is the old familiar car with
the stuff cushions in red plush (how gorgeous it once seemed!) and
with a box stove set up in one end of it? The stove is burning
furiously at its sticks this autumn evening, for the air sets in
chill as you get clear away from the city and are rising up to the
higher ground of the country of the pines and the lakes.

Look from the window as you go. The city is far behind now and right
and left of you there are trim farms with elms and maples near them
and with tall windmills beside the barns that you can still see in
the gathering dusk. There is a dull red light from the windows of
the farmstead. It must be comfortable there after the roar and
clatter of the city, and only think of the still quiet of it.

As you sit back half dreaming in the car, you keep wondering why it
is that you never came up before in all these years. Ever so many
times you planned that just as soon as the rush and strain of
business eased up a little, you would take the train and go back to
the little town to see what it was like now, and if things had
changed much since your day. But each time when your holidays came,
somehow you changed your mind and went down to Naragansett or
Nagahuckett or Nagasomething, and left over the visit to Mariposa for
another time.

It is almost night now. You can still see the trees and the fences
and the farmsteads, but they are fading fast in the twilight. They
have lengthened out the train by this time with a string of flat cars
and freight cars between where we are sitting and the engine. But at
every crossway we can hear the long muffled roar of the whistle,
dying to a melancholy wail that echoes into the woods; the woods, I
say, for the farms are thinning out and the track plunges here and
there into great stretches of bush,--tall tamerack and red scrub
willow and with a tangled undergrowth of bush that has defied for two
generations all attempts to clear it into the form of fields.

Why, look, that great space that seems to open out in the half-dark
of the falling evening,--why, surely yes,--Lake Ossawippi, the big
lake, as they used to call it, from which the river runs down to the
smaller lake,--Lake Wissanotti,--where the town of Mariposa has lain
waiting for you there for thirty years.

This is Lake Ossawippi surely enough. You would know it anywhere by
the broad, still, black water with hardly a ripple, and with the grip
of the coming frost already on it. Such a great sheet of blackness it
looks as the train thunders along the side, swinging the curve of the
embankment at a breakneck speed as it rounds the corner of the lake.

How fast the train goes this autumn night! You have travelled, I know
you have; in the Empire State Express, and the New Limited and the
Maritime Express that holds the record of six hundred whirling miles
from Paris to Marseilles. But what are they to this, this mad career,
this breakneck speed, this thundering roar of the Mariposa local
driving hard to its home! Don't tell me that the speed is only
twenty-five miles an hour. I don't care what it is. I tell you, and
you can prove it for yourself if you will, that that train of mingled
flat cars and coaches that goes tearing into the night, its engine
whistle shrieking out its warning into the silent woods and echoing
over the dull still lake, is the fastest train in the whole world.

Yes, and the best too,--the most comfortable, the most reliable, the
most luxurious and the speediest train that ever turned a wheel.

And the most genial, the most sociable too. See how the passengers
all turn and talk to one another now as they get nearer and nearer to
the little town. That dull reserve that seemed to hold the passengers
in the electric suburban has clean vanished and gone. They are
talking,--listen,--of the harvest, and the late election, and of how
the local member is mentioned for the cabinet and all the old
familiar topics of the sort. Already the conductor has changed his
glazed hat for an ordinary round Christie and you can hear the
passengers calling him and the brakesman "Bill" and "Sam" as if they
were all one family.

What is it now--nine thirty? Ah, then we must be nearing the
town,--this big bush that we are passing through, you remember it
surely as the great swamp just this side of the bridge over the
Ossawippi? There is the bridge itself, and the long roar of the train
as it rushes sounding over the trestle work that rises above the
marsh. Hear the clatter as we pass the semaphores and switch lights!
We must be close in now!

What? it feels nervous and strange to be coming here again after all
these years? It must indeed. No, don't bother to look at the
reflection of your face in the window-pane shadowed by the night
outside. Nobody could tell you now after all these years. Your face
has changed in these long years of money-getting in the city. Perhaps
if you had come back now and again, just at odd times, it wouldn't
have been so.

There,--you hear it?--the long whistle of the locomotive, one, two,
three! You feel the sharp slackening of the train as it swings round
the curve of the last embankment that brings it to the Mariposa
station. See, too, as we round the curve, the row of the flashing
lights, the bright windows of the depot.

How vivid and plain it all is. Just as it used to be thirty years
ago. There is the string of the hotel 'buses, drawn up all ready for
the train, and as the train rounds in and stops hissing and panting
at the platform, you can hear above all other sounds the cry of the
brakesmen and the porters:


And as we listen, the cry grows fainter and fainter in our ears and
we are sitting here again in the leather chairs of the Mausoleum
Club, talking of the little Town in the Sunshine that once we knew.

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