Page images



How startling is the sound of the dinner-gong! The tympanum suddenly recoils beneath the swell of the brazen instrument, and echoes the alarum to its fellow member of the lower house, of which Appetite is the speaker. In a large hotel, the effect is magical. What a rush from all quarters of the house to the dining-room! Chambers, offices, and closets, are hastily deserted by their occupants, that the elements of an unspeakable hurly-burly may mingle at the table-d'hôte. Loungers in the street catch the sound with wonderful acuteness, and hasten homeward to the hotel. The boarder under the barber's hands frets at the practitioner's slowness, gets cut, while uttering a violent oath, starts up, looking daggers, and wiping the soap hastily from his half-shaved chin, seizes his hat, and rushes to the place of feed.

In one dense crowd, they pour in at the door; pushing and squeezing, jostling and swearing, as if life itself depended upon the celerity of their entrance. Dignity is nothing, decency is nothing. A choice seat at the table is every thing.

The twenty or thirty individuals who are already seated at the head of the board, and in the immediate vicinity of the choisest eatables, are 'old heads;' they have 'cut their eye teeth;' they are 'up to snuff;' or, to cut the classics, and descend to homely English, they know how to live in an American hotel; an accomplishment by no means to be lightly regarded. Every day, about half an hour before the dinner-hour, they station themselves near the door of the diningroom, and with a patience worthy of Job, await its opening. Barely does John, the waiter, have time to sound the gong, the notes of which I have said are so magical, before they dart by him, and the last vibration of the brazen monitor finds the men of brass seated at the table. Some unsophisticated persons may think this a contemptible subserviency to the appetite; if so, they do the worthies much injustice. Their motives are of a high order; an honor to themselves, and a great light to the world. Example is every thing. Punctuality is a jewel. WASHINGTON said so, and he was a man of veracity. The hour to dine, as specified in the rules and regulations, posted up in the 'office,' was three. Not one minute before nor after three, but three precisely. Some inconsiderate man may think that a minute or two out of the way could make no material differ. ence. Don't trust such an one with the conveyance of your wife and five small children to a steam-boat pier! Ten chances to one he misses the boat. 'Time is money,' and two minutes lost daily, is seven hundred and forty minutes per annum. At this rate, supposing a man to live seventy years- a fair computation when we consider the caoutchouc case of Joice Heth- thirty-five days, eleven hours, and four sixtieths, are wasted in a life time, by being two minutes behind hand at dinner! Shades of Washington, Franklin, and Dr. Alcott! - what a dissipation of money! It was of this that the men at the door ruminated. They wished, like Washington, to set

a good example, in being punctual. If, in virtuously striving to excel in such a cause, they tread on each other's corns, and tumble over each other's heels, making themselves appear excessively ridiculous, it is our business not to laugh at, but to condole with them, as martyrs who suffer for our sake. Many a gouty toe has been ground into torture, in its owner's generous emulation to be the first and most punctual at the dinner-table. What disinterested martyrdom!

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The crowd have squeezed themselves into the room. Such a scrambling and jostling for seats! Spare the crockery. The din-from din comes dinner redoubles. Such an outcry! Babel is music 'Waiter!' 'Waiter!' 'John!' Waiter!' Thomas! Thomto it. as !' "Waiter!' 'John!' 'Thomas!' 'Soup!' 'Soup!' 'Soup!' were iterated in all octaves, from contralto to soprano. I was a 'looker-on in Vienna,' when the scenes which follow occurred, and I 'speak the things which I do know.'

Give us a stout, hearty plate of soup, William!' said a short, crimson-faced man, with an abdominal periphery like a semi-globe. As he gave this order for a second plate of soup, he shoved into the waiter's hand, open to receive the plate of a gentleman who had as yet secured nothing, his own dish, and bade him make haste. Ignorant of dinner etiquette,' as Fanny Kemble styles it, a dozen of those around us had at once commenced on the solids; which of course made the rest work like beavers to finish their soup; and some of those at the end of the table, who, having but just received the initial liquid, were still sipping after their luckier friends at the favored head of the table had concluded, were admonished of the necessity of making haste, by the removal of their plates by the impatient waiters. Waiters are systematic. People should be more simultaneous in eating soup. A polite man swallows his, scalding hot, that he may keep pace with his more fortunate neighbor.

Here! here! - you rascal, bring back my soup!' bawled out a man with a thin, vinegar aspect. His plate had suffered abduction. The waiter feigned not to hear. The wrinkles on the pungent face visibly sharpened. That look would have soured an entire dairy. In a voice thin and sharp as his features, he exclaimed: 'Here! here! you unmannerly Irish scape-goat! (ah! you hear at last, do you?) bring back my soup, instantly!'

'It's ag'in' the rules, Sir-r; I can't do it, Sir-r! But here's a beautiful arrangement!' replied the Irishman, passing a bill of fare. 'D―n you and your rules, and your bill of fare, in a mess! I want my soup, you Irish blackguard!'

'Can't do it, Sir-r; the rules must be obsarved. Can't give ye any more soup, Sir-r; the mates is on, Sir-r; them must be ate nixt; them's the rule, Sir-r;' and the waiter ran to answer a call farther up the table.

The discomfitted man swore as terribly as if he had formed one of the celebrated army in Flanders. Pretty hotel, this! Excellent regulations! Polite servants! Must eat meat, must I? I'll see 'em hanged first! Here, you chowder-head, bring back my

'Green peas, gen'lemen-green peas!' squeaked a bean-pole

[ocr errors]

waiter, with a nose like a sausage, and little twinkling eyes. A dozen hands grabbed convulsively at the dish. Green peas were a great rarity; a fact sufficiently evinced by the complacent air of the servant, as he announced them. A dish of gravy and a bottle of catsup were upset in the scuffle, much to the annoyance of the sour man, in whose lap a greater part of the first sought a dépôt. You have got your soup, I find, Sir!' said a wag, opposite, at which every body laughed, and one individual, at an untimely moment, when his mouth was full of Scotch ale, whereby a great gurgling and spluttering ensued, ending by a general spirt upon the 'fixins' of all who were near him; a most impartial division, for all received a portion. As soon as he could make himself heard above the discord, the person to whom the wag's remark had been addressed, answered, with much asperity, 'That's Irish wit, I s'pose; I hate Irish !'

'Peas, waiter!' "Waiter, peas!' 'Peas! peas! peas!' exclaimed a hundred voices in a breath. Reasonable souls! They looked to be all helped at once!

'Pass those peas?' said a score of impatient voices to the gentleman with the crimson face, who in the scuffle had succeeded in securing the dish to himself.

'Ha, ha!' he spluttered, complacently, with his mouth half full of salmon, I hav'n't eat any of these 'ere for a long while !'

'They look very fine!' said the next but one adjoining, in a manner that implied a strong desire to ascertain whether they did not taste respectably.

Very, very!' replied the fat man, as he scooped nine-tenths of all there were in the dish on to his own plate. Sundry eyes glanced pitchforks at him. They were evidently astonished. They should not have been. The gentleman came from a western pork-growing district. He fatted his own swine. I'm special fond of peas!' said he, half in enthusiasm at his own appetite, and half as a sort of an apology.


'Split me, if I should n't think so!' exclaimed the wag.

'Well, it's nothing strange !' snapped out Vinegar, taking the part of the obése, and chuckling at the discomfiture of the others.

'Some people will eat, until, being unable to help themselves, we shall be compelled to lift them out of their seat!' exclaimed one of the disappointed, giving the fat man a look that was not to be misconstrued.

I looked about me for some peas, but saw none. As I was scrutinizing, my eyes encountered the rueful and bewildered face of a modest young man, with an empty plate. In all probability, he had never dined before in a hotel; at least, the diffident manner with which he received the inattention paid to his modest requests, seemed to say as much. A constant fear, too, lest he should not behave quite like the rest, appeared to haunt him; and the longer he was neglected, the more he appeared embarrassed. Poor fellow! He had not yet received a mouthful to eat. What a bore is modesty! Brass is, emphatically, an accomplishment. The young man looked very ridiculously for the lack of it; and I pitied him.

'Waiter!' said I, winking peculiarly to an Adonis with squint eyes, and a mouth like a codfish. He sprang to my side. The wink

had touched his feelings. I knew it would. A waiter's heart is open to a wink, when words are useless.

'Get me some peas, and fresh salmon, on a clean plate.'

The fellow's eyes concentrated into their deepest squint, as he looked inquiringly, first into my face, and then at the space between my thumb and fore-finger. Apparently not seeing there what he had expected, his sprightly, helpful manner died away very suddenly, and his answer, as he stared mechanically up the table, was unqualifiedly brief.

Guess there ar' n't any here; do n't see any.'

I pointed to my thumb and fore-finger. A quarter-dollar filled the space so lately vacant.

'Do you see any now?'

The mouth opened wide, and assumed an amiable grin, and the eyes an extra squint, and for half a minute glanced scrutinizingly around the table.

'I think I does!' said he. His sight was completely restored.

'I thought you would,' said I, dropping the coin into his horny palm. What wonders the 'root of all evil' can accomplish! It makes the best vegetable pills in the world, and 'may be used with equally astonishing success in all climates.'

Here! you squint-eyed rascal!' roared out Vinegar, who for the last ten minutes had been unceasingly cursing every servant within hearing, 'I saw you take that bribe! Bring me my soup, or I'll expose you. Pretty joke! Have to pay landlord exorbitant charge for dinner, and then pay, beside, a lubberly set of lanthorn-jawed waiters for helping you to it! I won't submit to such treatment, and those who will, are ninnies! I won't stand it. I'll make them change their tone. I'll publish the landlord. I'll blow his hotel to the devil. I'll-I'll-I'll have my soup! Here, you laughing hyena, with your teeth out of doors, bring me my soup!'

The disinterested servant brought me the peas and salmon, with great alacrity, and looked as if he would like to have the silver dose repeated, but I had no farther use for him, and stared coldly upon his enthusiasm. He was a philosopher, and a deeply-read student of human nature. He understood that cold look, as readily as he had done the wink, and, to adopt a western phrase, quickly absquatulated.' Helping myself to a portion of the viands which I had been so fortunate as to obtain, I passed the remainder to my modest neighbor. He appeared very grateful, but was too much embarrassed to thank me. Having helped himself to salmon, he was proceeding (leisurely, lest he should seem indecorous,) to take some peas, when the dish was unceremoniously seized, and carried to the obése, who had bribed the waiter with a shilling to execute the manœuvre. Whereupon my modest friend looked very blank, and Vinegar took occasion to dilate sarcastically upon the expense of feeding pigs in the west; in which the fat man, unsophisticated, and seeing no allusion, coincided with fervor. He had swine to sell, and crying up the expense of fattening them, would tend to increase their value in the market. And here ensued a confab between the wag and the obése, in which the latter was made the unwitting butt of a thousand and one small shafts, touching his professional and personal affinities.

'Clear the tables!' sang out the authoritative voice of one decked in a short white apron, who brandished, in a masterly manner, a huge carving-knife and fork. This was no less a personage than the headwaiter, or 'butler,' as he directed his fellow-servants to style him. He knew the responsibility of his situation, and filled it with great dignity. His own talents had raised him, step by step, from the comparatively low office of a knife-scourer and cook's errand-boy, to the high stand which, knife in hand, he now occupied. His history is an excellent illustration of the old maxim, that 'talent, like water, will find its level.' I could dwell upon the hopes and aspirations of the lowly knife-scourer; his surcharged bosom overflowing in the lonely watches of the night, as he plied his rag and 'rotten-stone;' his longings for the birth of porter; the attainment of his wish; his enthusiasm upon his first début with Day-and-Martin; his still craving ambition; in short, his whole rise and progress, and final attainment to that pinnacle of usefulness, the situation of head-waiter.

My modest neighbor, supposing that the last-named order was intended as an insinuation that the guests had ate enough, arose and walked off. Upon reaching the door, and turning round, he seemed to perceive his mistake, and that the order was but for the clearance of the meats, to make room for the pastry; but, ashamed to expose his ignorance of etiquette,' by returning to the table, he left the room, hoping, I doubt not, from the bottom of his soul, that those he had left behind him would ascribe his withdrawal to surfeit rather than ignorance. He probably adjourned to a neighboring eatinghouse, to appease his tantalized appetite.

[ocr errors]

What pudding is this, waiter?' said a gentleman opposite. 'It's a pud-ding, Sir-r,' was the satisfactory reply.

'We know it's a pudding, but what kind of a pudding is it? Find out what pudding it is.'

That's aisily done!' said he, as with the utmost sang froid he perforated the crust of the doubtful dish with his dirty thumb. Sure, gintlemen, it's a rice !'

'You ignorant ape! - do n't you know better than that? You ought to be lynched!'

He would be, if he was in our parts!' said the fat gentleman, swallowing a glass of champagne, which he had taken, uninvited, from my bottle.

‘Look here, cabbage-head!' said Vinegar, tweaking the offender's ear; bring me my soup!'

I left the table. It was my last hotel dinner.



'MID total darkness, Hope herself
Is like the diamond dark;

But Faith, 'mid murkiest Erebus,
Emits her brightest spark :

A spark that Death's contrasted gloom
But with more light supplies,

As night's black pall, that hides the earth,
More clearly shows the skies.


« PreviousContinue »