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Ch. 11 - Lost in New York


Well! Well!

Whatever has been happening to this place, to New York?
Changed? Changed since I was here in '86? Well, I should
say so.

The hack-driver of the old days that I used to find
waiting for me at the station curb, with that impossible
horse of his--the hack-driver with his bulbous red face,
and the nice smell of rye whisky all 'round him for
yards--gone, so it seems, for ever.

And in place of him this--what is it they call it?--taxi,
with a clean-shaven cut-throat steering it. "Get in," he
says, Just that. He doesn't offer to help me or lift my
satchel. All right, young man, I'm crawling in.

That's the machine that marks it, eh? I suppose they have
them rigged up so they can punch up anything they like.
I thought so--he hits it up to fifty cents before we
start. But I saw him do it. Well, I can stand for it this
time. I'll not be caught in one of these again.

The hotel? All right, I'm getting out. My hotel? But what
is it they have done to it? They must have added ten
stories to it. It reaches to the sky. But I'll not try
to look to the top of it. Not with this satchel in my
hand: no, sir! I'll wait till I'm safe inside. In there
I'll feel all right. They'll know me in there. They'll
remember right away my visit in the fall of '86. They
won't easily have forgotten that big dinner I gave--nine
people at a dollar fifty a plate, with the cigars extra.
The clerk will remember _me_, all right.

Know me? Not they. The _clerk_ know me! How could he?
For it seems now there isn't any clerk, or not as there
used to be. They have subdivided him somehow into five
or six. There is a man behind a desk, a majestic sort of
man, waving his hand. It would be sheer madness to claim
acquaintance with him. There is another with a great book,
adjusting cards in it; and another, behind glass labelled
"Cashier," and busy as a bank; there are two with mail
and telegrams. They are all too busy to know me.

Shall I sneak up near to them, keeping my satchel in my
hand? I wonder, do they _see_ me? _Can_ they see me, a
mere thing like me? I am within ten feet of them, but I
am certain that they cannot see me. I am, and I feel it,
absolutely invisible.

Ha! One has seen me. He turns to me, or rather he rounds
upon me, with the words "Well, sir?" That, and nothing
else, sharp and hard. There is none of the ancient kindly
pretence of knowing my name, no reaching out a welcome
hand and calling me Mr. Er--Er--till he has read my name
upside down while I am writing it and can address me as
a familiar friend. No friendly questioning about the
crops in my part of the country. The crops, forsooth!
What do these young men know about crops?

A room? Had I any reservation? Any which? Any reservation.
Oh, I see, had I written down from home to say that I
was coming? No, I had not because the truth is I came at
very short notice. I didn't know till a week before that
my brother-in-law--He is not listening. He has moved
away. I will stand and wait till he comes back. I am
intruding here; I had no right to disturb these people
like this.

Oh, I can have a room at eleven o'clock. When it is
which?--is vacated. Oh, yes, I see, when the man in it
gets up and goes away. I didn't for the minute catch on
to what the word--He has stopped listening.

Never mind, I can wait. From eight to eleven is only
three hours, anyway. I will move about here and look at
things. If I keep moving they will notice me less. Ha!
books and news papers and magazines--what a stack of
them! Like a regular book-store. I will stand here and
take a look at some of them. Eh! what's that? Did I want
to _buy_ anything? Well, no, I hadn't exactly--I was
just--Oh, I see, they're on _sale_. All right, yes, give
me this one--fifty cents--all right--and this and these
others. That's all right, miss, I'm not stingy. They
always say of me up in our town that when I--She has
stopped listening.

Never mind. I will walk up and down again with the
magazines under my arm. That will make people think I
live here. Better still if I could put the magazines in
my satchel. But how? There is no way to set it down and
undo the straps. I wonder if I could dare put it for a
minute on that table, the polished one--? Or no, they
wouldn't likely allow a man to put a bag _there_.

Well, I can wait. Anyway, it's eight o'clock and soon,
surely, breakfast will be ready. As soon as I hear the
gong I can go in there. I wonder if I could find out
first where the dining-room is. It used always to be
marked across the door, but I don't seem to see it. Darn
it, I'll ask that man in uniform. If I'm here prepared
to spend my good money to get breakfast I guess I'm not
scared to ask a simple question of a man in uniform. Or
no, I'll not ask _him_. I'll try this one--or no, he's
busy. I'll ask this other boy. Say, would you mind, if
you please, telling me, please, which way the dining-room
--Eh, what? Do I want which? The grill room or the palm
room? Why, I tell you, young man, I just wanted to get
some breakfast if it's--what? Do I want what? I didn't
quite get that--_a la carte_? No, thanks--and, what's
that? table de what? in the palm room? No, I just wanted
--but it doesn't matter. I'll wait 'round here and look
about till I hear the gong. Don't worry about me.

What's that? What's that boy shouting out--that boy with
the tray? A call for Mr. Something or Other--say, must
be something happened pretty serious! A call for Mr.--why,
that's for me! Hullo! _Here I am! Here, it's Me! Here I
am_--wanted at the desk? all right, I'm coming, I'm
hurrying. I guess something's wrong at home, eh! _Here
I am_. That's my name. I'm ready.

Oh, a room. You've got a room for me. All right. The
fifteenth floor! Good heavens! Away up there! Never mind,
I'll take it. Can't give me a bath? That's all right.
I had one.

Elevator over this way? All right, I'll come along.
Thanks, I can carry it. But I don't see any elevator?
Oh, this door in the wall? Well! I'm hanged. This the

elevator! It certainly has changed. The elevator that I
remember had a rope in the middle of it, and you pulled
the rope up as you went, wheezing and clanking all the
way to the fifth floor. But this looks a queer sort of
machine. How do you do--Oh, I beg your pardon. I was in
the road of the door, I guess. Excuse me, I'm afraid I
got in the way of your elbow. It's all right, you didn't
hurt--or, not bad.

Gee whiz! It goes fast. Are you sure you can stop it?
Better be careful, young man. There was an elevator once
in our town that--fifteenth floor? All right.

This room, eh! Great Scott, it's high up. Say, better
not go too near that window, boy. That would be a hell
of a drop if a feller fell out. You needn't wait. Oh, I
see. I beg your pardon. I suppose a quarter is enough, eh?

Well, it's a relief to be alone. But say, this is high
up! And what a noise! What is it they're doing out there,
away out in the air, with all that clatter--building a
steel building, I guess. Well, those fellers have their
nerve, all right. I'll sit further back from the window.

It's lonely up here. In the old days I could have rung
a bell and had a drink sent up to the room; but away up
here on the fifteenth floor! Oh, no, they'd never send
a drink clean up to the fifteenth floor. Of course, in
the old days, I could have put on my canvas slippers and
walked down to the bar and had a drink and talked to the

But of course they wouldn't have a bar in a place like
this. I'd like to go down and see, but I don't know that
I'd care to ask, anyway. No, I guess I'll just sit and
wait. Some one will come for me, I guess, after a while.

If I were back right now in our town, I could walk into
Ed Clancey's restaurant and have ham and eggs, or steak
and eggs, or anything, for thirty-five cents.

Our town up home is a peach of a little town, anyway.

Say, I just feel as if I'd like to take my satchel and
jump clean out of that window. It would be a good rebuke
to them.

But, pshaw! what would _they_ care?

Stephen Leacock