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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
Intimations By Winter--An Ambassador Summoned
Among the forces which sweep and
play throughout the universe, untutored man is but a wisp in the wind.
Our civilisation is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in
that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it
is not yet wholly guided by reason. On the tiger no responsibility rests. We see him aligned by
nature with the forces of life--he is born into their keeping and without
thought he is protected. We
see man far removed from the lairs of the jungles, his innate instincts
dulled by too near an approach to free-will, his free- will not
sufficiently developed to replace his instincts and afford him perfect
He is becoming too wise to
hearken always to instincts and desires; he is still too weak to always
prevail against them. As a
beast, the forces of life aligned him with them; as a man, he has not yet
wholly learned to align himself with the forces.
In this intermediate stage he wavers--neither drawn in harmony with
nature by his instincts nor yet wisely putting himself into harmony by his
own free-will. He is even as a wisp in the wind, moved by every breath of
passion, acting now by his will and now by his instincts, erring with one,
only to retrieve by the other, falling by one, only to rise by the
other--a creature of incalculable variability.
We have the consolation of knowing that evolution is ever in
action, that the ideal is a light that cannot fail.
He will not forever balance thus between good and evil.
When this jangle of free-will instinct shall have been adjusted,
when perfect under standing has given the former the power to replace the
latter entirely, man will no longer vary. The needle of understanding will
yet point steadfast and unwavering to the distinct pole of truth.
In Carrie--as in how many of our
worldlings do they not?-- instinct and reason, desire and understanding,
were at war for the mastery. She
followed whither her craving led. She
was as yet more drawn than she drew.
When Minnie found the note next
morning, after a night of mingled wonder and anxiety, which was not
exactly touched by yearning, sorrow, or love, she exclaimed: "Well,
what do you think of that?"
"What?" said Hanson.
"Sister Carrie has gone to
live somewhere else."
Hanson jumped out of bed with
more celerity than he usually displayed and looked at the note.
The only indication of his thoughts came in the form of a little
clicking sound made by his tongue; the sound some people make when they
wish to urge on a horse.
"Where do you suppose she's
gone to?" said Minnie, thoroughly aroused.
"I don't know," a touch
of cynicism lighting his eye. "Now she has gone and done it."
Minnie moved her head in a
"Oh, oh," she said,
"she doesn't know what she has done."
"Well," said Hanson,
after a while, sticking his hands out before him, "what can you
Minnie's womanly nature was
higher than this. She figured
the possibilities in such cases.
"Oh," she said at last,
"poor Sister Carrie!"
At the time of this particular
conversation, which occurred at 5 A.M., that little soldier of fortune was
sleeping a rather troubled sleep in her new room, alone.
Carrie's new state was remarkable
in that she saw possibilities in it. She
was no sensualist, longing to drowse sleepily in the lap of luxury.
She turned about, troubled by her daring, glad of her release,
wondering whether she would get something to do, wondering what Drouet would
do. That worthy had his future
fixed for him beyond a peradventure. He could not help what he was going to do.
He could not see clearly enough to wish to do differently.
He was drawn by his innate desire to act the old pursuing part.
He would need to delight himself with Carrie as surely as he would
need to eat his heavy breakfast. He
might suffer the least rudimentary twinge of conscience in whatever he did,
and in just so far he was evil and sinning.
But whatever twinges of conscience he might have would be
rudimentary, you may be sure.
The next day he called upon
Carrie, and she saw him in her chamber.
He was the same jolly, enlivening soul.
"Aw," he said,
"what are you looking so blue about? Come on out to breakfast. You want to get your other clothes to-day."
Carrie looked at him with the hue
of shifting thought in her large eyes.
"I wish I could get
something to do," she said.
"You'll get that all
right," said Drouet. "What's
the use worrying right now? Get
yourself fixed up. See the
city. I won't hurt you."
"I know you won't," she
remarked, half truthfully.
"Got on the new shoes,
haven't you? Stick 'em out.
George, they look fine. Put on
"Say, that fits like a T,
don't it?" he remarked, feeling the set of it at the waist and eyeing
it from a few paces with real pleasure.
"What you need now is a new skirt.
Let's go to breakfast."
Carrie put on her hat.
"Where are the gloves?"
"Here," she said,
taking them out of the bureau drawer.
"Now, come on," he
Thus the first hour of misgiving
was swept away.
It went this way on every
occasion. Drouet did not leave
her much alone. She had time
for some lone wanderings, but mostly he filled her hours with sight-seeing.
At Carson, Pirie's he bought her a nice skirt and shirt waist.
With his money she purchased the little necessaries of toilet, until
at last she looked quite another maiden.
The mirror convinced her of a few things which she had long believed.
She was pretty, yes, indeed! How
nice her hat set, and weren't her eyes pretty.
She caught her little red lip with her teeth and felt her first
thrill of power. Drouet was so good.
They went to see "The
Mikado" one evening, an opera which was hilariously popular at that
time. Before going, they made
off for the Windsor dining-room, which was in Dearborn Street, a
considerable distance from Carrie's room.
It was blowing up cold, and out of her window Carrie could see the
western sky, still pink with the fading light, but steely blue at the top
where it met the darkness. A
long, thin cloud of pink hung in midair, shaped like some island in a
far-off sea. Somehow the swaying of some dead branches of trees across the
way brought back the picture with which she was familiar when she looked
from their front window in December days at home. She paused and wrung her
"What's the matter?"
"Oh, I don't know," she
said, her lip trembling.
He sensed something, and slipped
his arm over her shoulder, patting her arm.
"Come on," he said
gently, "you're all right."
She turned to slip on her jacket.
"Better wear that boa about
your throat to night."
They walked north on Wabash to
Adams Street and then west. The
lights in the stores were already shining out in gushes of golden hue.
The arc lights were sputtering overhead, and high up were the lighted
windows of the tall office buildings. The
chill wind whipped in and out in gusty breaths.
Homeward bound, the six o'clock throng bumped and jostled. Light
overcoats were turned up about the ears, hats were pulled down.
Little shop-girls went fluttering by in pairs and fours, chattering,
laughing. It was a spectacle of
Suddenly a pair of eyes met
Carrie's in recognition. They were looking out from a group of poorly
dressed girls. Their clothes
were faded and loose-hanging, their jackets old, their general make-up
Carrie recognised the glance and
the girl. She was one of those
who worked at the machines in the shoe factory.
The latter looked, not quite sure, and then turned her head and
looked. Carrie felt as if some great tide had rolled between them.
The old dress and the old machine came back.
She actually started. Drouet didn't notice until Carrie bumped into a
"You must be thinking,"
They dined and went to the
theatre. That spectacle pleased
Carrie immensely. The colour
and grace of it caught her eye. She had vain imaginings about place and
power, about far-off lands and magnificent people. When it was over, the
clatter of coaches and the throng of fine ladies made her stare.
"Wait a minute," said
Drouet, holding her back in the showy foyer where ladies and gentlemen were
moving in a social crush, skirts rustling, lace-covered heads nodding, white
teeth showing through parted lips. "Let's see."
coach-caller was saying, his voice lifted in a sort of euphonious cry.
"Isn't it fine?" said
"Great," said Drouet.
He was as much affected by this show of finery and gayety as she.
He pressed her arm warmly. Once
she looked up, her even teeth glistening through her smiling lips, her eyes
alight. As they were moving out
he whispered down to her, "You look lovely!"
They were right where the coach-caller was swinging open a coach-door
and ushering in two ladies.
"You stick to me and we'll
have a coach," laughed Drouet.
Carrie scarcely heard, her head
was so full of the swirl of life. They stopped in at a restaurant for a
little after-theatre lunch. Just a shade of a thought of the hour entered
Carrie's head, but there was no household law to govern her now.
If any habits ever had time to fix upon her, they would have operated
here. Habits are peculiar
things. They will drive the
really non-religious mind out of bed to say prayers that are only a custom
and not a devotion. The victim
of habit, when he has neglected the thing which it was his custom to do,
feels a little scratching in the brain, a little irritating something which
comes of being out of the rut, and imagines it to be the prick of
conscience, the still, small voice that is urging him ever to righteousness. If the digression is unusual enough, the drag of habit will
be heavy enough to cause the unreasoning victim to return and perform the
perfunctory thing. "Now,
bless me," says such a mind, "I have done my duty," when, as
a matter of fact, it has merely done its old, unbreakable trick once again.
Carrie had no excellent home
principles fixed upon her. If she had, she would have been more consciously
distressed. Now the lunch went
off with considerable warmth. Under
the influence of the varied occurrences, the fine, invisible passion which
was emanating from Drouet, the food, the still unusual luxury, she relaxed
and heard with open ears. She
was again the victim of the city's hypnotic influence.
"Well," said Drouet at
last, "we had better be going."
They had been dawdling over the
dishes, and their eyes had frequently met.
Carrie could not help but feel the vibration of force which followed,
which, indeed, was his gaze. He
had a way of touching her hand in explanation, as if to impress a fact upon
her. He touched it now as he
spoke of going.
They arose and went out into the
street. The downtown section
was now bare, save for a few whistling strollers, a few owl cars, a few open
resorts whose windows were still bright.
Out Wabash Avenue they strolled, Drouet still pouring forth his
volume of small information. He
had Carrie's arm in his, and held it closely as he explained.
Once in a while, after some witticism, he would look down, and his
eyes would meet hers. At last
they came to the steps, and Carrie stood up on the first one, her head now
coming even with his own. He
took her hand and held it genially. He
looked steadily at her as she glanced about, warmly musing.
At about that hour, Minnie was
soundly sleeping, after a long evening of troubled thought. She had her elbow in an awkward position under her side.
The muscles so held irritated a few nerves, and now a vague scene
floated in on the drowsy mind. She fancied she and Carrie were somewhere beside an old
coal-mine. She could see the tall runway and the heap of earth and coal cast
out. There was a deep pit, into
which they were looking; they could see the curious wet stones far down
where the wall disappeared in vague shadows.
An old basket, used for descending, was hanging there, fastened by a
"Let's get in," said
"Oh, no," said Minnie.
"Yes, come on," said
She began to pull the basket
over, and now, in spite of all protest, she had swung over and was going
"Carrie," she called,
"Carrie, come back"; but Carrie was far down now and the shadow
had swallowed her completely.
She moved her arm.
Now the mystic scenery merged
queerly and the place was by waters she had never seen.
They were upon some board or ground or something that reached far
out, and at the end of this was Carrie.
They looked about, and now the thing was sinking, and Minnie heard
the low sip of the encroaching water.
"Come on, Carrie," she
called, but Carrie was reaching farther out.
She seemed to recede, and now it was difficult to call to her.
"Carrie," she called,
"Carrie," but her own voice sounded far away, and the strange
waters were blurring everything. She
came away suffering as though she had lost something.
She was more inexpressibly sad than she had ever been in life.
It was this way through many
shifts of the tired brain, those curious phantoms of the spirit slipping in,
blurring strange scenes, one with the other.
The last one made her cry out, for Carrie was slipping away somewhere
over a rock, and her fingers had let loose and she had seen her falling.
"Minnie! What's the matter? Here,
wake up," said Hanson, disturbed, and shaking her by the shoulder.
matter?" said Minnie, drowsily.
"Wake up," he said,
"and turn over. You're
talking in your sleep."
A week or so later Drouet
strolled into Fitzgerald and Moy's, spruce in dress and manner.
"Hello, Charley," said
Hurstwood, looking out from his office door.
Drouet strolled over and looked
in upon the manager at his desk. "When do you go out on the road
again?" he inquired.
"Pretty soon," said
"Haven't seen much of you
this trip," said Hurstwood.
"Well, I've been busy,"
They talked some few minutes on
"Say," said Drouet, as
if struck by a sudden idea, "I want you to come out some evening."
"Out where?" inquired
"Out to my house, of
course," said Drouet, smiling.
Hurstwood looked up quizzically,
the least suggestion of a smile hovering about his lips.
He studied the face of Drouet in his wise way, and then with the
demeanour of a gentleman, said: "Certainly; glad to."
"We'll have a nice game of
"May I bring a nice little
bottle of Sec?" asked Hurstwood. "Certainly," said Drouet.
"I'll introduce you."
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