Share The Wealth

June 17, 1896
Elizabeth Bassett

I did not expect to be leaving home nearly as soon as I arrived. That however, was the way of it. One restless night in an unfamiliar bedroom and I was packing again for a trip. My father’s plan for me to continue with school involved a man in Cleveland, Ohio. My father tells me they were childhood friends and this man is in a unique position to help if it tickles him to do so. I cannot say I approve of begging for charity but I have the impression there is more going on than appears so plainly on the surface.

It was a slow ride on the train to Cleveland. Worse, it was not strictly a passenger train my father secured my passage on. I was in fact quite nervous at first to share a car with the common workers of a cargo train. They put me at ease soon enough though and I cannot fault them for manners. To be truthful they were more pleasant company than the third class passengers of my trip from Providence to home.

The sun was barely kissing the morning sky when we rolled into Cleveland. I was wide awake, the men had tried to be quiet but they had jobs to do as the train entered the station and I was not a sound sleeper on the trip. I exited the train and said my goodbyes.

Four blocks away was a hotel, just as my father had said. I was feeling rather exhausted as I stepped inside with my two heavy cases. The lobby was hardly worthy of the name. It spanned all of about six feet and ended with a counter that looked like it was a remnant from a saloon of twenty years ago. On one side there was a brass bell with a wooden handle.

Behind the counter was a wall with mailboxes and keys. I peeked around the edges looking to see if someone was about. Not a soul to be found except my own, I picked up the bell and rung it softly. The clang was anything but soft and I felt immediately guilty for making the racket.
A tired old man appeared from nowhere and yawned at me.

“You lost?” His scratchy voice asked.

“I need a room.”

“There a mister with you?”

“No, it is just me.”

“I don’t usually rent to women.”

“I would think not many women come through here.”

“You’d be right.” He grinned.

“Are you going to rent to me or should I head someplace else.

‘There ain’t no place else to head, little lady. You’ll be welcome here just so long as you don’t make no trouble.”

“I won’t make any trouble. I’m just here to see someone in the city and then I’ll be leaving.”

“Just one night then? I usually rent by the week.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes.

“Yes, just one night. How much?”

“It’s twenty a week but as you be only staying one night I guess that make it about seven-fifty.”

“Aren’t there seven days in a week in Cleveland?” I asked.

“Six and the Sabbath.”

“Then by my figuring that would make it two dollars and ninety cents a night. We’ll call it three for convenience.” I said with a smile and a wink.

“You drive a hard bargain, Miss. I don’t usually negotiate on the rates.”

I pulled out three dollars and slapped them down on the counter.

“Three dollars, take it or leave it.” I said.

“Your lucky I’m in a good mood.”

He picked up my money and then laid a key down on the desk.

“There’s a staircase just to the right of the door out front. Take it up to the third floor and it’s the second room on the left.” He said and walked away without waiting to see if I understood.

It was a struggle to climb the stairs with my cases but in the end I managed. The room door swung open with a loud creek. The air inside was musty to say the least. I wearily entered the room and slammed the door shut behind me. I turned the lock and then looked around.

The bed was unmade and the sheets were yellow and stained. There was a three legged chair off to one side and a small dresser against the far wall with half the drawers missing and the other half looking like they should be.

I looked between the bed and the chair trying to decide the lesser of evils. The chair won out and I collapsed in it for a short nap.

It was afternoon when I woke up again. I found a wash room at the end of the hallway and cleaned myself up for my meeting. A few minutes later I was walking the sidewalks of Cleveland and headed toward downtown. I did not dally around, I walked a quick pace and minded my own business. There were plenty of window distractions but I had a focus and window shopping has never really been of much interest to me anyway. If I cannot have it, I do not care if it exists or not.

I found the address I was looking for and entered the building. Immediately I could feel every pair of eyes in the room focus on me. I cleared my throat and put on my best smile as I walked up to what was obviously a reception desk. The young man behind it smiled at me.

“Good afternoon, I am--”

“Miss Bassett.” The young man finished for me.

“He is expecting you. This way.” The man stepped over to a door and opened it for me.

Inside was a sparsely decorated office. It was empty except for a desk, two chairs and me. Fortunately, that did not last long. An older man stepped in from a side door. He was thin and his hair was thinner and gray. His heavy moustache was slightly more colored with light brown hair. It was hard to tell if he was smiling but his eyes seemed to be.

“You must be Miss Elizabeth Bassett.” He said extending his hand.

“Yes, sir.” I replied taking his hand with mine.

He leaned down and kissed my hand before gesturing for me to take a seat. I settled into the chair, thankful it was more comfortable than the one in my hotel room. I was nervous, uncertain of what I should say, but the man seemed to since it and took charge right from the start.

“Your father and I go way back to times before you were born. He was a good friend. I agreed to see you because of that, nothing more.” He said.

“My father thought you might be able to help me.”

“I might. It depends.”

“Depends on what?”

“What is in it for me?”

“What do you want?”

He leaned back in his chair and now I was certain he was smiling. I leaned back as well.

“Let’s get the particulars out in the open. I want to know just what we are talking about.” He said.

“I spent the last year at Primrose College in Rhode Island. I want to go back in the fall, I want to earn a degree. My father is short on the tuition and not likely to come up with it anytime in the near future.” I said as plainly as I could.

“You want a scholarship from me.”

“Something like that.”

“What figures are we talking about?”

I do not know exactly what I had expected but it was not this. He seemed so nonchalant about the entire thing as if money was nothing more than a loaf bread and the only concern was to make sure a person deserved a slice before they ate.

I reached into my bag and pulled out the tuition papers. I handed them to the man. He looked over them quietly for a moment.

“It can be done.” He said.

“Thank you.” I replied a bit surprised.

“Don’t thank me yet. We have further matters to discuss and you’ll have to agree to some terms before it’s a done deal.”

I nodded.

“How long are you in town?” He asked.

“I was only planning on staying the night.” I replied.

“That won’t do at all. We’ll need at least a week. I’ll send a telegram to your father explaining. Where are you staying?”

If I were not sitting I think I might have fallen down. The man was dizzying with his fast paced conversation style.

“I’m at the Dunn Lodge but--”

“Not anymore. I’ll have Andrews pick up your things, give me your room key.”

I felt like a fish gasping for air. After a moment I simply reached into my bag and handed him my key. The man chuckled as I did and then got up and left the room for just a moment. When he came back the key was gone and it was clear he was ready for me to stand up.

“There is an extra room at my house. You’ll stay with us and we’ll have more time to talk over the week. Andrews is waiting in the lobby and he’ll take you anywhere you need to go.”

I stood up and nodded.

“Thank you, sir.” I said.

“Call me JD.”

He escorted me to the door where the young man who greeted me first was waiting for me. The young man offered me his arm and I took it. JD returned to his office and closed the door.

“I’m Chris Andrews, by the way.”

“Pleasure to meet you Mr. Andrews.”

“Call me Chris. So, how do you know Mr. Rockefeller?”

“I don’t.” I replied.


Paul said...

Ashley, well, JD Rockefeller, you surprise me, which is good.Warm hugs,
Warm hugs,

Jen said...

I can't wait to see if JDR is a spanker! lol.

Excellent post, I'm hooked.