CHAPTER SIX. BUFFALO
Housing the machine in a convenient and well-appointed stable for automobiles, we were reminded of the fact that we had arrived in Buffalo at no ordinary time, by a charge of three dollars per night for storage, with everything else extra. But was it not the Exposition we had come to see? and are not Expositions proverbially expensive - to promoters and stockholders as well as visitors?
Then, too, the hotels of Buffalo had expected so much and were so woefully disappointed. Vast arrays of figures had been compiled showing that within a radius of four hundred miles of Buffalo lived all the people in the United States who were worth knowing. The statistics were not without their foundation in fact, but therein lay the weakness of the entire scheme so far as hotels were concerned; people lived so near they could leave home in the morning with a boiled egg and a sandwich, see the Exposition and get back at night. Travellers passing through would stop over during the day and evening, then go their way on a midnight train, - it was cheaper to ride in a Pullman than stay in Buffalo.
We might have taken rooms at Rochester, running back and forth each day in the machine, - though Rochester was by no means beyond the zone of exorbitant charges. Notions of value become very much congested within a radius of two or three hundred miles of any great Exposition.
The Exposition was well worth seeing in parts by day and as a whole by night. The electrical display at night was a triumph of engineering skill and architectural arrangement. It was the falls of Niagara turned into stars, the mist of the mighty cascade crystallized into jewels, a brilliant crown to man's triumph over the forces of nature.
It was a wonderful and never-to-be-forgotten sight to sit by the waters at night, as the shadows were folding the buildings in their soft embrace, and see the first faint twinklings of the thousands upon thousands of lights as the great current of electricity was turned slowly on; and then to see the lights grow in strength until the entire grounds were bathed in suffused radiance, - that was as wonderful a sight as the world of electricity has yet witnessed, and it was well worth crossing an ocean to see; it was the one conspicuous success, the one memorable feature of the Exposition, and compared with it all exhibits and scenes by day were tame and insipid.
From time immemorial it has been the special province of the preacher to take the children to the circus and the side show; for the children must go, and who so fit to take them as the preacher? After all, is not the sawdust ring with its strange people, its giants, fairies, hobgoblins, and clowns, a fairy land, not really real, and therefore no more wicked than fairy land? Do they not fly by night? are they not children of space? the enormous tents spring up like mushrooms, to last a day; for a few short hours there is a medley of strange sounds, - a blare of trumpets, the roar of strange beasts, the ring of strange voices, the crackling of whips; there are prancing steeds and figures in costumes curious, - then, flapping of canvas, creaking of poles, and all is silent. Of course it is not real, and every one may go. The circus has no annals, knows no gossip, presents no problems; it is without morals and therefore not immoral. It is the one joyous amusement that is not above, but quite outside the pale of criticism and discussion. Therefore, why should not the preacher go and take the children?
But the Midway. Ah! the Midway, that is quite a different matter; but still the preacher goes, - leaving the children at home.
Learning is ever curious. The Professor, after walking patiently through several of the buildings and admiring impartially sections of trees from Cuba and plates of apples from Wyoming, modestly expressed a desire for some relaxation.
"The Midway is something more than a feature, it is an element. It is the laugh that follows the tears; the joke that relieves the tension; the Greeks invariably produced a comedy with their tragedies; human nature demands relaxation; to appreciate the serious, the humorous is absolutely essential. If the Midway were not on the grounds the people would find it outside. Capacity for serious contemplation differs with different peoples and in different ages, - under Cromwell it was at a maximum, under Charles II. it was at a minimum; the Puritans suppressed the laughter of a nation; it broke out in ridicule that discriminated not between sacred and profane. The tension of our age is such that diversions must recur quickly. The next great Exposition may require two Midways, or three or four for the convenience of the people. You can't get a Midway any too near the anthropological and ethnological sections; a cinematograph might be operated as an adjunct to the Fine Arts building; a hula-hula dancer would relieve the monotony of a succession of big pumpkins and prize squashes."
At that moment the Professor became interested in the strange procession entering the streets of Cairo, and we followed. Before he got out it cost him fifty cents to learn his name, a quarter for his fortune, ten cents for his horoscope, and sundry amounts for gems, jewels, and souvenirs of the Orient.
Through his best hexameter spectacles he surveyed the dark-eyed daughter of the Nile who was telling his fortune with a strong Irish accent; all went smoothly until the prophetess happened to see the Professor's sunburnt nose, fiery red from the four days' run in wind and rain, and said warningly, -
"You are too fond of good eating and drinking; you drink too much, and unless you are more temperate you will die in twenty years." That was too much for the Professor, whose occasional glass of beer - a habit left over from his student days - would not discolor the nose of a humming-bird.