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Dorothy McNair relished the freedom that came with not being known as the “Richest Girl in the World” (the way the phrase rolled from everyone’s tongues, it sounded like it was imprinted in capital letters). Her green eyes concealed behind a pair of silver spectacles and her irrepressible honey blonde curls in a neat chignon beneath a black hat trimmed with small black feathers and plain netting, Dorothy felt downright inconspicuous. She breathed deeply of the air of the bustling, busy Grand Central Station. Ah, it smelled alive and thriving, of people filled with purpose, simple people, whose only desire was to get to where they were going and no doubt do very important things. Things more important than signing dotted lines on papers passed to her by trustees, wilting beneath the electric lights of Sherry’s while moving through intricate dance steps, or nodding to acquaintances she barely knew and probably didn’t like every afternoon in Central Park. She didn’t mind her immense wealth, knowing how dire poverty could be, but she wanted something more from life than being rich. Even charity was less an instance of truly helping others–each charity ball or bazaar or kettledrum merely whipped the society pages into a frenzy and obscured the assistance she attempted to make.
Dorothy pushed through the crowd, actually delighted with the way people bumped into her and stepped on her toes with nary an acknowledgment of her person, as though she was just another insignificant body filling the station. In her left hand, she held exactly one suitcase–brown leather with brass clasps–filled with the same sober cotton shirtwaists and navy tailor-mades in which she was currently clothed, and in her right, the twenty-five dollars which would take her in any direction she wished. For the moment, she did not know what she wished, for she had been no further than fifty square miles from New York City over the course of her entire life. The pyramids of Egypt she knew, the Pyrenees she climbed, the Black Forest she hiked, but the great wide expanse of her native United States of America? It may as well be Siberia or the North Pole.The den of conductors shouting “All aboard” and the clanging of train bells and their piercing whistles urged her on, and she moved into the ticket line.
When the line lurched forward, she lurched with it, until she reached the ticket window, where the man behind the cage rapped a staccato: “Where to, miss?”
“Where do you think I should go?” she leaned forward. “I’ve heard so much of Buffalo at this time of the year.”
“Say, miss,” the ticket seller frowned. “If you don’t know where to, get out of the line until you do. You’re holding up a lot of busy people.” He hooked a thumb at the line behind her. “Where to, sir?”
Dorothy turned to look. Golly, the line was long, stretching to the foyer, criss-crossing other lines and dissecting others. The man directly behind her clamped his teeth on his cigar, bushy eyebrows lowering over a nose reddened by broken capillaries. “A one-way ticket to Columbus.”
“Is that a nice place to visit?” Dorothy asked as the man elbowed her out of the way in order to pay for his ticket.
“Ya, it’s nice. Got a house there and three mouths to feed,” he snorted and rolled his eyes. “Is Columbus nice. Ha!”