CHAPTER XIV. AMERICAN HOTELS.
They are always built on a plan which to a European seems to be most unnecessarily extravagant in space. It is not unfrequently the case that the greater portion of the ground floor is occupied by rooms and halls which make no return to the house whatever. The visitor enters a great hall by the front door, and almost invariably finds it full of men who are idling about, sitting round on stationary seats, talking in a listless manner, and getting through their time as though the place were a public lounging-room. And so it is. The chances are that not half the crowd are guests at the hotel. I will now follow the visitor as he makes his way up to the office. Every hotel has an office. To call this place the bar, as I have done too frequently, is a lamentable error. The bar is held in a separate room appropriated solely to drinking. To the office, which is in fact a long open bar, the guest walks up, and there inscribes his name in a book. This inscription was to me a moment of misery which I could never go through with equanimity. As the name is written, and as the request for accommodation is made, half a dozen loungers look over your name and listen to what you say. They listen attentively, and spell your name carefully, but the great man behind the bar does not seem to listen or to heed you; your destiny is never imparted to you on the instant. If your wife or any other woman be with you - the word "lady" is made so absolutely distasteful in American hotels that I cannot bring myself to use it in writing of them - she has been carried off to a lady's waiting room, and there remains in august wretchedness till the great man at the bar shall have decided on her fate. I have never been quite able to fathom the mystery of these delays. I think they must have originated in the necessity of waiting to see what might be the influx of travelers at the moment, and then have become exaggerated and brought to their present normal state by the gratified feeling of almost divine power with which for the time it invests that despotic arbiter. I have found it always the same, though arriving with no crowd, by a conveyance of my own, when no other expectant guests were following me. The great man has listened to my request in silence, with an imperturbable face, and has usually continued his conversation with some loafing friend, who at the time is probably scrutinizing my name in the book. I have often suffered in patience, but patience is not specially the badge of my tribe, and I have sometimes spoken out rather freely. If I may presume to give advice to my traveling countrymen how to act under such circumstances, I should recommend to them freedom of speech rather than patience. The great man, when freely addressed, generally opens his eyes, and selects the key of your room without further delay. I am inclined to think that the selection will not be made in any way to your detriment by reason of that freedom of speech. The lady in the ballad who spoke out her own mind to Lord Bateman, was sent to her home honorably in a coach and three. Had she held her tongue, we are justified in presuming that she would have been returned on a pillion behind a servant.
I have been greatly annoyed by that want of speech. I have repeatedly asked for room, and received no syllable in return. I have persisted in my request, and the clerk has nodded his head at me. Until a traveler is known, these gentlemen are singularly sparing of speech, especially in the West. The same economy of words runs down from the great man at the office all through the servants of the establishment. It arises, I believe, entirely from that want of courtesy which democratic institutions create. The man whom you address has to make a battle against the state of subservience presumed to be indicated by his position, and he does so by declaring his indifference to the person on whose wants he is paid to attend. I have been honored on one or two occasions by the subsequent intimacy of these great men at the hotel offices, and have then found them ready enough at conversation.
That necessity of making your request for room before a public audience is not in itself agreeable, and sometimes entails a conversation which might be more comfortably made in private. "What do you mean by a dressing-room, and why do you want one?" Now that is a question which an Englishman feels awkward at answering before five and twenty Americans, with open mouths and eager eyes; but it has to be answered. When I left England, I was assured that I should not find any need for a separate sitting-room, seeing that drawing-rooms more or less sumptuous were prepared for the accommodation of "ladies." At first we attempted to follow the advice given to us, but we broke down. A man and his wife traveling from town to town, and making no sojourn on his way, may eat and sleep at a hotel without a private parlor. But an English woman cannot live in comfort for a week, or even in comfort for a day, at any of these houses, without a sitting-room for herself. The ladies' drawing-room is a desolate wilderness. The American women themselves do not use it. It is generally empty, or occupied by some forlorn spinster, eliciting harsh sounds from the wretched piano which it contains.