I shall never forget the sinking sensation that gripped my knees and the pit of my stomach when I realized that we were in Chicago for all night. Visions of Mama pacing the floor, wringing her hands, crowded my thoughts. There were no telephones and we stood beside the tracks wondering what our next move should be. The situation called for resourcefulness and Eric always left that to me.
“Well Una, what shall we do?” he inquired.
“Perhaps the station will be open all night,” I suggested. “Anyway, we’ll have to find out.”
Eric walked to the station window and I shrank into the shadows feeling all at once self-conscious and conspicuous.
The word Eric brought back was not cheering. The depot was closing at once. Neither of us had friends in the city who would help us out of our predicament, so there seemed nothing left to do but find a hotel. To one who had been reared in a prudish pattern, the idea of our presenting ourselves at a hostelry at such an hour was practically scandalous. Also – what hotel?
Eric solved that one. At least he knew the name of a reputable one, he claimed. “Shall we try it?” he asked.
“Yes, I suppose so,” I replied with dejected accent. We had already discussed the plan of driving out by cab but Eric had figured it would cost more than the fifteen dollars his wallet contained. Besides, Sheridan Drive was only a bicycle path much of the way and we would probably arrive no earlier than by train. We finally compromised by walking five more blocks to the Windsor Hotel and, with all the confidence we could muster, barged up to the hotel desk.
“On what floor will we find the parlor?” Eric asked the clerk.
“The parlor is on the second floor but it is closed for the night,” the man replied.
“Then we will have two rooms,” Eric said and, on second thought, added, “Connecting, please.”
The clerk rang for a boy and we were escorted up a short flight of stairs and by devious turns down a long, dark hall. My spirits were as low as the soles of my feet and, when the first door yielded to the key, I stepped in and, without a word, closed it and sat down on the bed.
Eric was a blithe soul. Things that shocked most individuals passed him by. It was probably my attitude that sobered him on this occasion, so that when the door closed he began to think. A conviction drove him to rap sharply on the door that connected our two rooms and, in a voice loaded with mystery, he said, “Una, please let me in. I want to tell you something.”
Having had no experience whatsoever with either hotels or their rules, I readily unbolted the door and Eric stepped in and, in a dramatic whisper, confided that he didn’t like the looks of the bellboy and he didn’t want to leave me alone.
“You wait here and I’ll go get some magazines and we’ll read ‘til time to go get a train.”
Almost any plan would have appealed to me at the moment so I agreed. We were still talking sotto voce when there was a loud knock on the door and a man’s voice said, “Open up this door!” I complied and the night clerk standing in the hall looked past me to Eric. “Don’t you know any better than to enter a lady’s room at this time of night?” he said in a savage tone of voice.
I was horrified. Without giving Eric a chance to reply I said, “We’ve missed our train and must wait somewhere until morning. Surely you can open the parlor or some room for us to wait in.”
The man could not have failed to sense my genuine agony for, without hesitation, he said, “If you will come with me I’ll see that the parlor is opened and you can wait there.” I stepped through the door and followed him. At that moment I didn’t care whether Eric came along or not, for I was so humiliated. Men didn’t have any business inviting girls to the opera if they couldn’t stand up to the exigencies. I couldn’t face the thought of Mama’s mortification over having her daughter out all night at seventeen, her “honor” in jeopardy.
The clerk himself turned the parlor lights on and Eric and I chose distant seats and sat down. I was in no mood for light conversation and he found it more peaceful to let me alone. We had learned that, fortunately, the first train in the morning left early enough to permit us to arrive home before breakfast but I was not sure what Mother might do before that time. I had visions of her at the police station or ringing bells. There was no knowing how far Mother’s talent for theatre might take her.
As it happened, I needn’t have worried for she hadn’t even missed me and when we arrived and I slid quietly into the bedroom, I was ready to collapse. After a brief recital of what had occurred, she said, “Eric is a nice clean boy,” and went out to engineer breakfast.
Eric’s calmness might have been a consolation to her but, at that moment, I should have been willing to trade a little of it for some good horse sense. I felt like an emotional actress just through her melodrama for the evening as I made repairs for breakfast.
Once we were safely brooded under ancestral wings again, Eric became debonair and he was about to entertain the breakfast crowd with a lurid account of the affair when one of the girls shut him up in a hurry.
As for opera, it had suddenly acquired horns and a forked tail that took years to dispel. Faust, poor soul, has never been the same since.