Arrived in his room Lord Berkeley made preparations for that first and
last and all-the-time duty of the visiting Englishman--the jotting down
in his diary of his "impressions" to date. His preparations consisted in
ransacking his "box" for a pen. There was a plenty of steel pens on his
table with the ink bottle, but he was English.
The English people
manufacture steel pens for nineteen-twentieths of the globe, but they
never use any themselves. They use exclusively the pre-historic quill.
My lord not only found a quill pen, but the best one he had seen in
several years--and after writing diligently for some time, closed with
the following entry:
BUT IN ONE THING I HAVE MADE AN IMMENSE MISTAKE, I OUGHT TO
HAVE SHUCKED MY TITLE AND CHANGED MY NAME BEFORE I STARTED.
He sat admiring that pen a while, and then went on:
"All attempts to mingle with the common people and became permanently one
of them are going to fail, unless I can get rid of it, disappear from it,
and re-appear with the solid protection of a new name. I am astonished
and pained to see how eager the most of these Americans are to get
acquainted with a lord, and how diligent they are in pushing attentions
upon him. They lack English servility, it is true--but they could
acquire it, with practice. My quality travels ahead of me in the most
mysterious way. I write my family name without additions, on the
register of this hotel, and imagine that I am going to pass for an
obscure and unknown wanderer, but the clerk promptly calls out, 'Front!
show his lordship to four-eighty-two!' and before I can get to the lift
there is a reporter trying to interview me as they call it. This sort of
thing shall cease at once. I will hunt up the American Claimant the
first thing in the morning, accomplish my mission, then change my lodging
and vanish from scrutiny under a fictitious name."
He left his diary on the table, where it would be handy in case any new
"impressions" should wake him up in the night, then he went to bed and
presently fell asleep. An hour or two passed, and then he came slowly to
consciousness with a confusion of mysterious and augmenting sounds
hammering at the gates of his brain for admission; the next moment he was
sharply awake, and those sounds burst with the rush and roar and boom of
an undammed freshet into his ears. Banging and slamming of shutters;
smashing of windows and the ringing clash of falling glass; clatter of
flying feet along the halls; shrieks, supplications, dumb moanings of
despair, within, hoarse shouts of command outside; cracklings and
mappings, and the windy roar of victorious flames!
Bang, bang, bang! on the door, and a cry:
"Turn out-the house is on fire!"
The cry passed on, and the banging. Lord Berkeley sprang out of bed and
moved with all possible speed toward the clothes-press in the darkness
and the gathering smoke, but fell over a chair and lost his bearings.
He groped desperately about on his hands, and presently struck his head
against the table and was deeply grateful, for it gave him his bearings
again, since it stood close by the door. He seized his most precious
possession; his journaled Impressions of America, and darted from the
He ran down the deserted hall toward the red lamp which he knew indicated
the place of a fire-escape. The door of the room beside it was open.
In the room the gas was burning full head; on a chair was a pile of
clothing. He ran to the window, could not get it up, but smashed it with
a chair, and stepped out on the landing of the fire-escape; below him was
a crowd of men, with a sprinkling of women and youth, massed in a ruddy
light. Must he go down in his spectral night dress? No--this side of
the house was not yet on fire except at the further end; he would snatch
on those clothes. Which he did. They fitted well enough, though a
trifle loosely, and they were just a shade loud as to pattern. Also as
to hat--which was of a new breed to him, Buffalo Bill not having been to
England yet. One side of the coat went on, but the other side refused;
one of its sleeves was turned up and stitched to the shoulder. He
started down without waiting to get it loose, made the trip successfully,
and was promptly hustled outside the limit-rope by the police.
The cowboy hat and the coat but half on made him too much of a centre of
attraction for comfort, although nothing could be more profoundly
respectful, not to say deferential, than was the manner of the crowd
toward him. In his mind he framed a discouraged remark for early entry
in his diary: "It is of no use; they know a lord through any disguise,
and show awe of him--even something very like fear, indeed."
Presently one of the gaping and adoring half-circle of boys ventured a
timid question. My lord answered it. The boys glanced wonderingly at
each other and from somewhere fell the comment:
"English cowboy! Well, if that ain't curious."
Another mental note to be preserved for the diary: "Cowboy. Now what
might a cowboy be? Perhaps--" But the viscount perceived that some more
questions were about to be asked; so he worked his way out of the crowd,
released the sleeve, put on the coat and wandered away to seek a humble
and obscure lodging. He found it and went to bed and was soon asleep.
In the morning, he examined his clothes. They were rather assertive, it
seemed to him, but they were new and clean, at any rate. There was
considerable property in the pockets. Item, five one-hundred dollar
bills. Item, near fifty dollars in small bills and silver. Plug of
tobacco. Hymn-book, which refuses to open; found to contain whiskey.
Memorandum book bearing no name. Scattering entries in it, recording in
a sprawling, ignorant hand, appointments, bets, horse-trades, and so on,
with people of strange, hyphenated name--Six-Fingered Jake, Young-Man-
afraid-of his-Shadow, and the like. No letters, no documents.
The young man muses-maps out his course. His letter of credit is burned;
he will borrow the small bills and the silver in these pockets, apply
part of it to advertising for the owner, and use the rest for sustenance
while he seeks work. He sends out for the morning paper, next, and
proceeds to read about the fire. The biggest line in the display-head
announces his own death! The body of the account furnishes all the
particulars; and tells how, with the inherited heroism of his caste, he
went on saving women and children until escape for himself was
impossible; then with the eyes of weeping multitudes upon him, he stood
with folded arms and sternly awaited the approach of the devouring fiend;
"and so standing, amid a tossing sea of flame and on-rushing billows of
smoke, the noble young heir of the great house of Rossmore was caught up
in a whirlwind of fiery glory, and disappeared forever from the vision of
The thing was so fine and generous and knightly that it brought the
moisture to his eyes. Presently he said to himself: "What to do is as
plain as day, now. My Lord Berkeley is dead--let him stay so. Died
creditably, too; that will make the calamity the easier for my father.
And I don't have to report to the American Claimant, now. Yes, nothing
could be better than the way matters have turned out. I have only to
furnish myself with a new name, and take my new start in life totally
untrammeled. Now I breathe my first breath of real freedom; and how
fresh and breezy and inspiring it is! At last I am a man! a man on equal
terms with my neighbor; and by my manhood; and by it alone, I shall rise
and be seen of the world, or I shall sink from sight and deserve it.
This is the gladdest day, and the proudest, that ever poured it's sun
upon my head!"