This is my first day in New York. And looking around to find the number of the house where I was going to stay, my thoughts were so animated as to feel that all the arteries and veins of my body through my feet were kissing the ground upon which my heart would soon appease with its Maker.
A few people, going to the Low Mass, I should judge by the solemnity of their walk, men and women, sent curious glances at the stranger dressed in the robes on the street. By this time approaching the 7th Avenue and not finding the desired number I was just directing my steps towards a gentleman dressed in some kind of uniform to inquire about the place, when a young man tipped his hat in front of me and raised the finger of his right hand and pointed to the sign of the florist's store just a few steps backwards. I could then plainly read the name on the board above the door. It was the name very dear to me, which, with longing heart I was looking for. Almost immediately a man came out from that same store with a broad smile on his face and with a gentle bow, as though asking my permission, he took my valise thus relieving me just in time, and leading the way into the store I saw another gentleman behind a counter preparing a large floral design from the rarest flowers of the season, for the funeral of a most distinguished politician of Harlem.
Although I yield to no man in the appreciation of a good smiling face and here I had two of them and the most typical faces which are prominent in the making of this heterogeneous republic, John, representing the Huguenot and Dutch, and Jack whose father and mother were Irish, and Jack was Irish too. Both these gentlemen with pantomimic actions in a few words which now I know were English words but at that time I could not tell if they were Chinese or Hindoo. They tried to make me understand that Mr. George N., whom they knew I was looking for, as they had heard him speaking of me and they saw my photograph, and they were waiting notification of my coming, and that they were struck by ecstasy at my sudden appearance, he was at breakfast and that he would soon be back so I had better step into his office and rest myself while waiting for him. The expectancy to meet my friend George N., it lengthened every moment for me waiting in that little office. Twenty-four years since I saw him last when I was only ten years old, and even if I had not seen his photograph in all these years I could distinguish him among ten thousand. He was my first teacher in the grammar school; neighbor in my home and a very great distant relative. He always took especial interest in my scholarship. My childhood and school days were not all that I could desire for me, to be, for I was an orphan, yet it was that orphan who always carried the first or the second honors in the annual examinations. It was for this reason, perhaps, that my teachers were all well pleased with my progress. The past is only a memory, yet when we look back in the light of our sincerity we can trace every point and every reason that contributed to our success or failure in our lives. It is not a vision neither is there a mere kinetoscope procession. The High Priest is here waiting to meet his teacher with the same solemnity as in the old school days when he had to meet his teacher after some of his occasional mischiefs. With these and other agreeable memories relishing my time in that office, I heard a loud applause in the store and the words "Father is here," aroused my inquisitiveness and before I could leave my chair, there was at the door of the office standing the man whom I wanted to see. Sturdy and resolute with two slow steps he now extends a welcome hand to me and as he called me by my childish nickname in response said, I, my teacher! Yes, said he, How do you do my Father? Why didn't you let me know when you were coming so I could meet you at the pier; How long have you been wandering to find this place? And many other complimentaries, but, you must, he went on saying, change your appearance at once, for I am not going to disgrace myself and you too, if we dare to walk on the streets with you dressed in robes like this. Let us go up stairs in my room, and I believe you can be fitted with a new suit of clothes made to order for me which I was ready to try on today, as the tailor just sent them here a little while ago. Then you must have a very clean shave, my goodness, there is a whole mask to come off your face and the long black hair you have, you can make some money by selling it to any fashionable lady. Now, Father, you have to hurry, because the barber shop closes at 12 o'clock and you only have the necessary time to change your dress.
[Illustration: THE WORLD'S WONDER, ACROPOLIS OF ATHENS, GREECE]
The clothes which George N. offered for my transfiguration with the exception of being made for a man one inch taller than my own stature they didn't look very awkward upon me and to escape curiosity he took me through the alleys of a narrow passage into the 124th Street, where an elderly German kept a barber shop and when he was through cleaning that over burdened head of mine, he was almost exhausted, and liable to a fine, if any policeman happened to see him working on Sunday after 12 o'clock. The barber closed the door of his shop allowing time for us to just step out and we hastened our way back to the store, now walking on 7th Avenue. Jack, whose name already is mentioned here, is one of the leading flower decorators in New York City. He could make a cross of flowers look like a picture, and he could make a bouquet for the most particular bride, he could decorate a little chapel around the corner and make it look as artistic as he could decorate a rich mansion in the most exclusive Riverside Drive. Jack made as much money as any of his high grade fellow traders in Harlem, and he had no home responsibilities, his widow mother being what we might call well-to-do, for she owned considerable real estate in that vicinity, yet, Jack, every Monday morning had to obtain a loan for his carfare, and more than half a dozen young ladies all around Manhattan were particularly interested in Jack's welfare. This is Sunday and one o'clock in the afternoon, and Jack should be enjoying his holiday, and there were already two of his female chums waiting for him on the sidewalk. Yet Jack had always some more time to spare to accommodate his employer George N., who as now entered the store he gave the synthematical pass-word "that's all," which in the language of the employer and employees it means "The boys may now go home."
But Jack, as he took a glimpse on me, in all his Irish calibre he almost screamed: Help! St. Patrick, what a metamorphosis is this? Is that you, Father? You look now to me more like a butterfly out of a caterpillar than anything in Ireland. Say, girls, calling his friends from the outside, come in you girls, I take the honor to introduce you to the Father ..., but, my soul, I am ashamed to call you Father, so fashionable a gentleman as you look now. You shall not call me Father, said I, as long as you see me dressed like a gentleman. I shall not, Jack said, and with his girls took his departure, while George N., who interpreted all this merriment, took a fresh white rose and put it in my buttonhole. Let us go for lunch, said he and I followed gladly for I felt it was a timely call.
As George N. is a bachelor he takes his meals in no particular place, anywhere from Harlem Casino or Palm Garden or Manhattan Club to a ten cent lunch counter. Today he took me into a dollar a plate restaurant on 125th Street. Before I was through with my dinner, George N. made the remark to me saying "if you always enjoy the American cooking the way I observe you doing, you will never starve in America, I assure you." It was the wisest prophecy that George N. ever made about my future in America.
After dinner we visited Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive and on our return he gave me instructions how to find the Waldorf Astoria hotel where Aleck, one of his nephews had a position, and that Aleck would make arrangements for the night for me and that the following morning George N. would wait for me to discuss my plans for the future. I left him and when I was in my room which Aleck provided for me, the time was well nigh midnight.
After the day's excitement I hoped that a good night's rest would refresh me anew and the next morning would find me prepared for the work I chose to devote my future life in this New World. With a lightning quickness my mind examined all my past life and with the same speed I made my conclusions that there was no more any pleasure for me to look back, neither was there any attraction in that garb which so often is the representation of hypocrisy itself. I felt so happy for my decision and with a grateful heart I bent on my knees in prayer to Him who lay down His life for my freedom and my salvation, and as an evidence of my good health, the night passed undisturbed in sound sleep and in the morning when Aleck called me for breakfast I felt that every fibre of my body was springing for action, and with the last touch leaping from my bed the first day of new life went into history.