How He Left the
by Louisa Baldwin
I USED to work the passenger-lift in the
Empire Hotel, that big block of building in lines of red and
white brick like streaky bacon, that stands at the corner of
Street. I'd served my time in the army, and got my discharge with
good-conduct stripes; and how I got the job was in this way. The
hotel was a big company affair with a managing committee of
retired officers and such-like; gentlemen with a bit o' money in
the concern, and nothing to do but fidget about it, and my late
Colonel was one of 'em. He was as good-tempered a man as ever
stepped when his will wasn't crossed, and when I asked him for a
job, "Mole," says he, "you're the very man to work
the lift at our big hotel. Soldiers are civil and businesslike,
and the public like 'em only second best to sailors. We've had to
give our last man the sack, and you can take his place."
I liked my work well enough and my pay, and kept
my place a year, and I should have been there still if it hadn't
been for a circumstance But don't let me anticipate. Ours was
a hydraulic lift. None o' them rickety things swung up like a
poll parrot's cage in a well staircase that I shouldn't care to
trust my neck to. It ran as smooth as oil, a child might have
worked it, and safe as standing on the ground. Instead of being
stuck full of advertisements like an omnibus, we'd mirrors in it,
and the ladies would look at themselves, and pat their hair, and
set their mouths when I was taking 'em downstairs dressed of an
evening. It was a little sitting-room, with red velvet cushions
to sit down on, and you'd nothing to do but get into it, and it
'ud float you up or float you down light as a bird.
All the visitors used the lift one time or
another, going up or coming down. Some of them was French, and
they called the lift the "assenser," and good
enough for them in their language, no doubt; but why the
Americans, that can speak English when they choose, and are
always finding out ways of doing things quicker than other folks,
should waste time and breath calling a lift an elevator, I can't
I was in charge of the lift from noon till
midnight. By that time the theatre and dining-out folks had come
in, and anyone returning late walked upstairs, for my day's work
was done. One of the porters worked the lift till I come on duty
in the morning; but before twelve there was nothing particular
going on, and not much till after two o'clock. Then it was pretty
hot work with visitors going up and down constant, and the
electric bell ringing you from one floor to another like a house
on fire. Then came a quiet spell while dinner was on, and I'd sit
down comfortable in the lift and read my paper, only I mightn't
smoke. But nobody else might neither, and I had to ask furren
gentlemen to please not smoke in it, it was against the rule. I
hadn't so often to tell English gentlemen, they're not like
furreners that seem as if their cigars was glued to their lips.
I always noticed faces as folks got into the lift,
for I've sharp sight and a good memory, and none of the visitors
needed to tell me twice where to take them. I knew them and I
knew their floor as well as they did themselves.
It was in November that Colonel Saxby came to the
Empire Hotel. I noticed him particularly, because you could see
at once that he was a soldier. He was a tall, thin man about
fifty, with a hawk nose, keen eyes, and a grey moustache, and
walked stiff from a gun-shot wound in the knee. But what I
noticed most was the scar of a sabrecut across the right side of
the face. As he got into the lift to go to his room on the fourth
floor, I thought what a difference there is among officers.
Colonel Saxby put me in mind of a telegraph-post for height and
thinness; and my old Colonel was like a barrel in uniform, but a
brave soldier and a gentleman all the same. Colonel Saxby's room
was number 210, just opposite the glass door leading to the lift,
and every time I stopped on the fourth floor number 210 stared me
in the face. The Colonel used to go up in the lift every day
regular, though he never came down in it till But I'm coming
to that presently. Sometimes, when he was alone in the lift, he'd
speak to me. He asked me in what regiment I'd served, and said he
knew the officers in it. But I can't say he was comfortable to
talk to. There was something stand-off about him, and he always
seemed deep in his own thoughts. He never sat down in the lift.
Whether it was empty or full he stood bolt upright under the
lamp, where the light fell on his pale face and scarred cheek.
One day in February I didn't take the Colonel up
in the lift, and as he was regular as clockwork I noticed it, but
I supposed he'd gone away for a few days, and I thought no more
about it. Whenever I stopped on the fourth floor the door of 210
was shut, and as he often left it open, I made sure the Colonel
was away. At the end of a week I heard a chambermaid say that
Colonel Saxby was ill; so, thinks I, that's why he hasn't been in
the lift lately.
It was a Tuesday night, and I'd had an uncommonly
busy time of it. It was one stream of traffic up and down, and so
it went on the whole evening. It was on the strike of midnight,
and I was about to put out the light in the lift, lock the door,
and leave the key in the office for the man in the morning, when
the electric bell rang out sharp; I looked at the dial, and saw I
was wanted on the fourth floor. It struck twelve as I stepped
into the lift. As I passed the second and third floors, I
wondered who it was that had rung so late, and thought it must be
a stranger that didn't know the rule of the house. But when I
stopped at the fourth floor and flung open the door of the lift,
Colonel Saxby was standing there wrapped in a military cloak. The
door of his room was shut behind him, for I read the number on
it. I thought he was ill in his bed, and ill enough he looked,
but he had his hat on, and what could a man that had been in bed
ten days want with going out on a winter midnight? I don't think
he saw me, but when I'd set the lift in motion, I looked at him
standing under the lamp, with the shadow of his hat hiding his
eyes, and the light full on the lower part of his face, that was
deadly pale, the scar on his cheek showing still paler.
"Glad to see you're better, sir," said
I; but he said nothing, and I didn't like to look at him again.
He stood like a statue with his cloak about him, and I was
downright glad when I opened the door of the lift for him to step
out in the hall. I saluted as he got out, and he went past me
towards the front door.
"The Colonel wants to go out," I said to
the porter who stood staring, and he opened the door and Colonel
Saxby walked out into the snow.
"That's a queer go!" he said.
"It is," said I. "I don't like the
Colonel's looks, he doesn't seem himself at all. He's ill enough
to be in his bed, and there he is gone out on a night like
"Anyhow he's got a famous cloak to keep him
warm. I say, supposing he's gone to a fancy ball, and got that
cloak on to hide his dress," said the porter, laughing
uneasily, for we both felt queerer than we cared to say, and as
we spoke there came a loud ring at the door-bell.
"No more passengers for me!" I said; and
I was really putting the light out this time, when Joe opened the
door, and two gentlemen entered that I knew at a glance were
doctors. One was tall, and the other was short and stout, and
they both came to the lift.
"Sorry, gentlemen, but it's against the rule
for the lift to go up after, midnight."
"Nonsense!" said the stout gentleman;
"it's only just past twelve, and a matter of life and death.
Take us up at once to the fourth floor," and they were in
the lift like a shot; so up we went, and when I opened the door,
they walked straight to number 10. A nurse came out to meet them,
and the stout doctor said: "No change for the worse, I
And I heard her reply: "The patient died five
minutes ago, sir."
Though I'd no business to speak, that was more
than I could stand. I followed the doctors to the door and said:
"There's some mistake here, gentlemen, I took the Colonel
down in the lift since the clock struck twelve, and he went
The stout doctor said sharply: "A case of
mistaken identity. It was someone else you took for the
"Begging your pardon, gentlemen, it was the
Colonel himself, and the night porter that opened the front door
for him knew him as well as me. He was dressed for a night like
this, with his military cloak wrapped round him."
"Step in and see for yourself," said the
I followed the doctor into the room, and there lay
Colonel Saxby looking just as I had seen him a few minutes
before. There he lay, dead as his forefathers, and the great
cloak spread over the bed to keep him warm that would feel heat
and cold no more. I never slept that night. I sat up with Joe,
expecting every minute to hear the Colonel ring the front door
bell. Next day, every time the bell for the lift rang sharp and
sudden, the sweat broke out on me and I shook again. I felt as
bad as I did the first time I was in action. Me and Joe told the
manager all about it, and he said we'd been dreaming; but, said
he, "Mind you don't talk about it, or the house'll be empty
in a week."
The Colonel's coffin was smuggled into the house
the next night. Me and the manager and the undertaker's men took
it up in the lift, and it lay right across it, and not an inch to
spare. They carried it into number 210, and while I waited for
them to come out again, a queer feeling came over me. Then the
door opened softly, and four men carried out the long coffin
straight across the passage, and set it down with its foot
towards the door of the lift, and the manager looked round for
"I can't do it, sir," I said. "I
can't take the Colonel down again. I took him down at
midnight yesterday, and that was enough for me."
"Push it in," said the manager, speaking
short and sharp, and they ran the coffin into the lift without a
sound. The manager got in last, and before he closed the door he
said, "Mole, you've worked this lift for the last time, it
strikes me." And I had, for I wouldn't have stayed on at the
Empire Hotel after what had happened, not if they'd doubled my
wages; and me and the night porter left together.