Page images

In International Episode.



[ocr errors]

Four years ago—in 1874—two young Englishmen had occasion to go to the United States. They crossed the ocean at midsummer, and, arriving in New York on the first day of August, were much struck with the fervid temperature of that city. Disembarking upon the wharf, they climbed into one of those huge high-hung coaches which convey passengers to the hotels, and with a great deal of bouncing and bumping, took their course through Broadway. The midsummer aspect of New York is not perhaps the most favourable one ; still, it is not without its picturesque and even brilliant side. Nothing could well resemble less a typical English street than the interminable avenue, rich in incongruities, through which our two travellers advanced-looking out on each side of them at the comfortable animation of the sidewalks, the high-coloured, heterogeneous architecture, the huge white marble façades, glittering in the strong, crude light, and bedizened with gilded lettering, the multifarious awnings, banners, and streamers, the extraordinary number of omnibuses, horse-cars, and other democratic vehicles, the vendors of cooling fluids, the white trousers and big straw-hats of the policemen, the tripping gait of the modish young persons on the pavement, the general brightness, newness, juvenility, both of people and things. The young men had exchanged few observations; but in crossing Union Square, in front of the monument to Washington—in the very shadow, indeed, projected by the image of the pater patria--one of them remarked to the other, “It seems a rum-looking place."

"Ah, very odd, very odd," said the other, who was the clever man of the two.

“Pity it's so beastly hot," resumed the first speaker, after a pause. “You know we are in a low latitude," said his friend. “I daresay,” remarked the other. "I wonder," said the second speaker, presently, “if they can give one bath." “I daresay not,” rejoined the other.

Oh, I say !” cried his comrade. This animated discussion was checked by their arrival at the hotel, which had been recommended to them by an American gentleman whose acquaintance they made with whom, indeed, they became very intimate-on the steamer, and who had proposed to accompany them to

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

ܕ ܠܐ

the inn and introduce them, in a friendly way, to the proprietor. This
plan, however, had been defeated by their friend's finding that his
“partner" was awaiting him on the wharf, and that his commercial
associate desired him instantly to come and give his attention to certain
telegrams received from St. Louis. But the two Englishmen, with
nothing but their national prestige and personal graces to recommend
them, were very well received at the hotel, which had an air of capacious
hospitality. They found that a bath was not unattainable, and were
indeed struck with the facilities for prolonged and reiterated immersion
with which their apartment was supplied. After bathing a good deal-
more indeed than they had ever done before on a single occasion--they
made their way into the dining-room of the hotel, which was a spacious
restaurant, with a fountain in the middle, a great many tall plants in
ornamental tubs, and an array of French waiters. The first dinner on
land, after a sea voyage, is under any circumstances a delightful occasion,
and there was something particularly agreeable in the circumstances in
wbich our young Englishmen found themselves. They were extremely
good-natured young men; they were more observant than they appeared ;
in a sort of inarticulate, accidentally dissimulative fashion, they were
highly appreciative. This was perhaps especially the case with the elder,
who was also, as I have said, the man of talent. They sat down at a
little table which was a very different affair from the great clattering
see-saw in the saloon of the steamer. The wide doors and windows of
the restaurant stood open, beneath large awnings, to a wide pavement,
where there were other plants in tubs, and rows of spreading trees, and
beyond which there was a large shady square, without any palings and
with marble-paved walks. And above the vivid verdure rose other façades
of white marble and of pale chocolate-coloured stone, squaring them
selves against the deep blue sky. Here, outside, in the light and the
shade and the heat, there was a great tinkling of the bells of innume-
rable street-cars, and a constant strolling and shuffling and rustling of
many pedestrians, a large proportion of whom were young women in
Pompadour looking dresses. Within, the place was cool and vaguely-
lighted ; with the plash of water, the odour of flowers and the flitting
of French waiters, as I have said, upon soundless carpets.

“It's rather like Paris, you know," said the younger of our two

“ It's like Paris--only more so," his companion rejoined.

“I suppose it's the French waiters," said the first speaker. "Why don't they have French waiters in London ?"

Fancy a French waiter at a club," said his friend.

The young Englishman stared a little, as if he could not fancy it. " In Paris I'm very apt to dine at a place where there's an English waiter. Don't you know, what's-his-name's, close to the thingumbobt They always set an English waiter at me. I suppose they think I can't

speak French."

[ocr errors]


“Well, you can't.” And the elder of the young Englishmen unfolded his napkin.

His companion took no notice whatever of this declaration. say,” he resumed, in a moment, “I suppose we must learn to speak American. I suppose we must take lessons."

“I can't understand them,” said the clever man.

“What the deuce is he saying?" asked his comrade, appealing from the French waiter.

“He is recommending some soft-shell crabs," said the clever man.

And so, in desultory observation of the idiosyncrasies of the new society in which they found themselves, the young Englishmen proceeded to dine-going in largely, as the phrase is, for cooling draughts and dishes, of which their attendant offered them a very long list. After dinner they went ont and slowly walked about the neighbouring streets. The early dusk of waning summer was coming on, but the heat was still very great. The pavements were hot even to the stout boot-soles of the British travellers, and the trees along the kerb-stone emitted strange exotic odours. The young men wandered through the adjoining squarethat queer place without palings, and with marble walks arranged in black and white lozenges. There were a great many benches, crowded with shabby-looking people, and the travellers remarked, very justly, that it was not much like Belgrave Square. On one side was an enormous hotel, lifting up into the hot darkness an immense array of

open, brightly-lighted windows. At the base of this populous structure was an eternal jangle of horse-cars, and all round it, in the upper dusk, was a sinister hum of mosquitoes. The ground-floor of the hotel seemed to be a huge transparent cage, flinging a wide glare of gaslight into the street, of which it formed a sort of public adjunct, absorbing and emitting the passers-by promiscuously. The young Englishmen went in with everyone else, from curiosity, and saw a couple of hundred men sitting on divans along a great marble-paved corridor, with their legs stretched out, together with several dozen more standing in a queue, as at the ticket-office of a railway station, before a brilliantly illuminated counter, of vast extent. These latter persons, who carried portmanteaux in their hands, had a dejected, exhausted look; their garments were not very fresh, and hey seemed to be rendering some mysterious tribute to a magnificent young man with a waxed moustache and a shirt-front adorned with liamond buttons, who every now and then dropped an absent glance over their multitudinous patience. They were American citizens doing homage to an hotel-clerk.

By bed time-in their impatience to taste of a terrestrial couch gain our seafarers went to bed early-it was still insufferably hot, and he buzz of the mosquitoes at the open windows might have passed for an audible crepitation of the temperature.

“ We can't stand this, you snow,” the young Englishmen said to each other; and they tossed about VOL. XXXVIII.--NO. 228.


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

all night more boisterously than they had tossed upon the Atlantic billows.
On the morrow, their first thought was that they would re-embark that
day for England; and then it occurred to them that they might find an
asylum nearer at hand. The cave of Æolus became their ideal of
comfort, and they wondered where the Americans went when they wished
to cool off. They had not the least idea, and they determined to apply
for information to Mr. J. L. Westgate. This was the name inscribed
in a bold hand on the back of a letter carefully preserved in the pocket-
book of our junior traveller. Beneath the address, in the left-hand
corner of the envelope, were the words, “ Introducing Lord Lambeth
and Percy Beaumont, Esq." The letter had been given to the two
Englishmen by a good friend of theirs in London, who had been in
America two years previously and had singled out Mr. J. L. Westgate
from the many friends he had left there as the consignee, as it were, of
his compatriots. “He is a capital fellow," the Englishman in London
had said, “and he has got an awfully pretty wife. He's tremendously
hospitable—he will do everything in the world for you ; and as he knows
everyone over there, it is quite needless I should give you any other
introduction. He will make you see everyone; trust to him for putting
you into circulation. He has got a tremendously pretty wife.” It was
natural that in the hour of tribulation Lord Lambeth and Mr. Percy
Beaumont should have bethought themselves of a gentleman whose
attractions had been thus vividly depicted; all the more so that he
lived in the Fifth Avenue and that the Fifth Avenue, as they had
ascertained the night before, was contiguous to their botel. " Ten to one
he'll be out of town,” said Percy Beaumont; “but we can at least find
out where he has gone, and we can immediately start in pursuit. He
can't possibly have gone to a hotter place, you know.”

“Oh, there's only one hotter place,” said Lord Lambeth, “and I
hope he hasn't gone there."

They strolled along the shady side of the street to the number indicated upon the precious letter. The house presented an imposing chocolate-coloured expanse, relieved by facings and window-cornices of florid sculpture, and by a couple of dusty rose-trees, which clambered over the balconies and the portico. This last-mentioned feature was approached by a monumental flight of steps.

“ Rather better than a London house,” said Lord Lambeth, looking down from this altitude, after they had rung the bell.

“It depends upon wbat London house you mean," replied his companion. “ You have a tremendous chance to get wet between the housedoor and your carriage."

"Well,” said Lord Lambeth, glancing at the burning heavens, “ I guess' it doesn't rain so much here!”

The door was opened by a long negro in a white jacket, who grinned familiarly when Lord Lambeth asked for Mr. Westgate.

" He ain't at home, sir; he's down town at his o'fice."

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

"Oh, at bis office ?” said the visitors. “And when will he be at home ?"

Well, sir, when he goes out dis way in de mo’ning, he ain't liable to come home all day.”

This was discouraging; but the address of Mr. Westgate's office was freely imparted by the intelligent black, and was taken down by Percy Beaumont in his pocket-book. The two gentlemen then returned, languidly, to their hotel, and sent for a hackney-coach; and in this commodious vehicle they rolled comfortably down town. They measured the whole length of Broadway again, and found it a path of fire; and then, deflecting to the left, they were deposited by their conductor before

fresh, light, ornamental structure, ten stories high, in a street crowded with keen-faced, light-limbed young men, who were running about very quickly and stopping each other eagerly at corners and in doorways. Passing into this brilliant building, they were introduced by one of the keen-faced young men—he was a charming fellow, in wonderful creamcoloured garments and a hat with a blue ribbon, who had evidently perceived them to be aliens and helpless—to a very snug hydraulic elevator, in which they took their place with many other persons, and which, shooting upward in its vertical socket, presently projected them into the seventh horizontal compartment of the edifice. Here, after brief delay, they found themselves face to face with the friend of their friend in London.

His office was composed of several different rooms, and they waited

very silently in one of them after they had sent in their letter and their cards. The letter was not one which it would take Mr. Westgate very long to read, but he came out to speak to them more instantly than they could have expected; he had evidently jumped up from his work. He was a tall, lean personage, and was dressed all in fresh white linen ; he had a thin, sharp, familiar face, with an expression that was at one and the same time sociable and business-like, a quick, intelligent eye, and a large brown moustache, which concealed his mouth and made bis chin, beneath it, look small. Lord Lambeth thought he looked tremendously clever.

“How do you do, Lord Lambeth—how do you do, sir ?” he said, holding the open letter in his hand. “ I'm very glad to see you—I hope you're very well. You had better come in here-I think it's cooler;" and he led the way into another room, where there were law-books and papers, and windows wide open beneath striped awnings. Just opposite one of the windows, on a line with his eyes, Lord Lambeth observed the weather-vane of a church steeple. The uproar of the street sounded infinitely far below, and Lord Lambeth felt very high in the air. “I say it's cooler,” pursued their host,“ but everything is relative. How do you stapd the heat?

"I can't say we like it,” said Lord Lambeth ; “but Beaumont likes it better than I." “Well, it won't last,” Mr. Westgate very cheerfully declared ;

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »