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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
The counsel of winter--fortune's ambassador calls
In the light of the world's
attitude toward woman and her duties, the nature of Carrie's mental state
deserves consideration. Actions such as hers are measured by an arbitrary
scale. Society possesses a
conventional standard whereby it judges all things. All men should be
good, all women virtuous. Wherefore,
villain, hast thou failed?
For all the liberal analysis of
Spencer and our modern naturalistic philosophers, we have but an infantile
perception of morals. There
is more in the subject than mere conformity to a law of evolution.
It is yet deeper than conformity to things of earth alone.
It is more involved than we, as yet, perceive. Answer, first, why
the heart thrills; explain wherefore some plaintive note goes wandering
about the world, undying; make clear the rose's subtle alchemy evolving
its ruddy lamp in light and rain. In the essence of these facts lie the first principles of
"Oh," thought Drouet,
"how delicious is my conquest."
"Ah," thought Carrie,
with mournful misgivings, "what is it I have lost?"
Before this world-old proposition
we stand, serious, interested, confused; endeavouring to evolve the true
theory of morals--the true answer to what is right.
In the view of a certain stratum
of society, Carrie was comfortably established--in the eyes of the
starveling, beaten by every wind and gusty sheet of rain, she was safe in
a halcyon harbour. Drouet had
taken three rooms, furnished, in Ogden Place, facing Union Park, on the
West Side. That was a little,
green-carpeted breathing spot, than which, to-day, there is nothing more
beautiful in Chicago. It
afforded a vista pleasant to contemplate.
The best room looked out upon the lawn of the park, now sear and
brown, where a little lake lay sheltered. Over the bare limbs of the
trees, which now swayed in the wintry wind, rose the steeple of the Union
Park Congregational Church, and far off the towers of several others.
The rooms were comfortably enough
furnished. There was a good
Brussels carpet on the floor, rich in dull red and lemon shades, and
representing large jardinieres filled with gorgeous, impossible flowers. There was a large pier-glass mirror between the two windows.
A large, soft, green, plush-covered couch occupied one corner, and
several rocking-chairs were set about. Some pictures, several rugs, a few
small pieces of bric-a-brac, and the tale of contents is told.
In the bedroom, off the front
room, was Carrie's trunk, bought by Drouet, and in the wardrobe built into
the wall quite an array of clothing--more than she had ever possessed
before, and of very becoming designs.
There was a third room for possible use as a kitchen, where Drouet
had Carrie establish a little portable gas stove for the preparation of
small lunches, oysters, Welsh rarebits, and the like, of which he was
exceedingly fond; and, lastly, a bath.
The whole place was cosey, in that it was lighted by gas and heated
by furnace registers, possessing also a small grate, set with an asbestos
back, a method of cheerful warming which was then first coming into use.
By her industry and natural love of order, which now developed, the
place maintained an air pleasing in the extreme.
Here, then, was Carrie,
established in a pleasant fashion, free of certain difficulties which most
ominously confronted her, laden with many new ones which were of a mental
order, and altogether so turned about in all of her earthly relationships
that she might well have been a new and different individual. She looked
into her glass and saw a prettier Carrie than she had seen before; she
looked into her mind, a mirror prepared of her own and the world's opinions,
and saw a worse. Between these two images she wavered, hesitating which to
"My, but you're a little
beauty," Drouet was wont to exclaim to her.
She would look at him with large,
"You know it, don't
you?" he would continue.
"Oh, I don't know," she
would reply, feeling delight in the fact that one should think so,
hesitating to believe, though she really did, that she was vain enough to
think so much of herself.
Her conscience, however, was not
a Drouet, interested to praise. There she heard a different voice, with
which she argued, pleaded, excused. It
was no just and sapient counsellor, in its last analysis.
It was only an average little conscience, a thing which represented
the world, her past environment, habit, convention, in a confused way.
With it, the voice of the people was truly the voice of God.
"Oh, thou failure!"
said the voice.
"Why?" she questioned.
"Look at those about,"
came the whispered answer. "Look at those who are good. How would they scorn to do what you have done. Look at the
good girls; how will they draw away from such as you when they know you have
been weak. You had not tried
before you failed."
It was when Carrie was alone,
looking out across the park, that she would be listening to this. It would come infrequently--when something else did not
interfere, when the pleasant side was not too apparent, when Drouet was not
there. It was somewhat clear in
utterance at first, but never wholly convincing. There was always an answer, always the December days
threatened. She was alone; she
was desireful; she was fearful of the whistling wind. The voice of want made
answer for her.
Once the bright days of summer
pass by, a city takes on that sombre garb of grey, wrapt in which it goes
about its labours during the long winter.
Its endless buildings look grey, its sky and its streets assume a
sombre hue; the scattered, leafless trees and wind-blown dust and paper but
add to the general solemnity of colour.
There seems to be something in the chill breezes which scurry through
the long, narrow thoroughfares productive of rueful thoughts.
Not poets alone, nor artists, nor that superior order of mind which
arrogates to itself all refinement, feel this, but dogs and all men.
These feel as much as the poet, though they have not the same power
of expression. The sparrow upon the wire, the cat in the doorway, the dray
horse tugging his weary load, feel the long, keen breaths of winter. It
strikes to the heart of all life, animate and inanimate.
If it were not for the artificial fires of merriment, the rush of
profit-seeking trade, and pleasure-selling amusements; if the various
merchants failed to make the customary display within and without their
establishments; if our streets were not strung with signs of gorgeous hues
and thronged with hurrying purchasers, we would quickly discover how firmly
the chill hand of winter lays upon the heart; how dispiriting are the days
during which the sun withholds a portion of our allowance of light and
warmth. We are more dependent
upon these things than is often thought.
We are insects produced by heat, and pass without it.
In the drag of such a grey day
the secret voice would reassert itself, feebly and more feebly.
Such mental conflict was not
always uppermost. Carrie was
not by any means a gloomy soul. More,
she had not the mind to get firm hold upon a definite truth.
When she could not find her way out of the labyrinth of ill-logic
which thought upon the subject created, she would turn away entirely.
Drouet, all the time, was
conducting himself in a model way for one of his sort.
He took her about a great deal, spent money upon her, and when he
travelled took her with him. There
were times when she would be alone for two or three days, while he made the
shorter circuits of his business, but, as a rule, she saw a great deal of
"Say, Carrie," he said
one morning, shortly after they had so established themselves, "I've
invited my friend Hurstwood to come out some day and spend the evening with
"Who is he?" asked
"Oh, he's a nice man.
He's manager of Fitzgerald and Moy's."
"What's that?" said
"The finest resort in town.
It's a way-up, swell place."
Carrie puzzled a moment.
She was wondering what Drouet had told him, what her attitude would
"That's all right,"
said Drouet, feeling her thought. "He doesn't know anything. You're Mrs. Drouet now."
There was something about this
which struck Carrie as slightly inconsiderate.
She could see that Drouet did not have the keenest sensibilities.
"Why don't we get
married?" she inquired, thinking of the voluble promises he had made.
"Well, we will," he
said, "just as soon as I get this little deal of mine closed up."
He was referring to some property
which he said he had, and which required so much attention, adjustment, and
what not, that somehow or other it interfered with his free moral, personal
"Just as soon as I get back
from my Denver trip in January we'll do it."
Carrie accepted this as basis for
hope--it was a sort of salve to her conscience, a pleasant way out.
Under the circumstances, things would be righted.
Her actions would be justified. She really was not enamoured of
Drouet. She was more clever
than he. In a dim way, she was
beginning to see where he lacked. If it had not been for this, if she had not been able to
measure and judge him in a way, she would have been worse off than she was.
She would have adored him. She
would have been utterly wretched in her fear of not gaining his affection,
of losing his interest, of being swept away and left without an anchorage.
As it was, she wavered a little, slightly anxious, at first, to gain
him completely, but later feeling at ease in waiting.
She was not exactly sure what she thought of him--what she wanted to
When Hurstwood called, she met a
man who was more clever than Drouet in a hundred ways.
He paid that peculiar deference to women which every member of the
sex appreciates. He was not
overawed, he was not overbold. His
great charm was attentiveness. Schooled
in winning those birds of fine feather among his own sex, the merchants and
professionals who visited his resort, he could use even greater tact when
endeavouring to prove agreeable to some one who charmed him.
In a pretty woman of any refinement of feeling whatsoever he found
his greatest incentive. He was
mild, placid, assured, giving the impression that he wished to be of service
only--to do something which would make the lady more pleased.
Drouet had ability in this line
himself when the game was worth the candle, but he was too much the egotist
to reach the polish which Hurstwood possessed.
He was too buoyant, too full of ruddy life, too assured.
He succeeded with many who were not quite schooled in the art of
love. He failed dismally where
the woman was slightly experienced and possessed innate refinement. In the
case of Carrie he found a woman who was all of the latter, but none of the
former. He was lucky in the
fact that opportunity tumbled into his lap, as it were.
A few years later, with a little more experience, the slightest tide
of success, and he had not been able to approach Carrie at all.
"You ought to have a piano
here, Drouet," said Hurstwood, smiling at Carrie, on the evening in
question, "so that your wife could play."
Drouet had not thought of that.
"So we ought," he
"Oh, I don't play,"
"It isn't very
difficult," returned Hurstwood. "You
could do very well in a few weeks."
He was in the best form for
entertaining this evening. His clothes were particularly new and rich in
appearance. The coat lapels
stood out with that medium stiffness which excellent cloth possesses.
The vest was of a rich Scotch plaid, set with a double row of round
mother-of-pearl buttons. His
cravat was a shiny combination of silken threads, not loud, not
inconspicuous. What he wore did not strike the eye so forcibly as that which
Drouet had on, but Carrie could see the elegance of the material.
Hurstwood's shoes were of soft, black calf, polished only to a dull shine.
Drouet wore patent leather but Carrie could not help feeling that
there was a distinction in favour of the soft leather, where all else was so
rich. She noticed these things
almost unconsciously. They were
things which would naturally flow from the situation. She was used to
"Suppose we have a little
game of euchre?" suggested Hurstwood, after a light round of
conversation. He was rather
dexterous in avoiding everything that would suggest that he knew anything of
Carrie's past. He kept away
from personalities altogether, and confined himself to those things which
did not concern individuals at all. By
his manner, he put Carrie at her ease, and by his deference and pleasantries
he amused her. He pretended to
be seriously interested in all she said.
"I don't know how to
play," said Carrie.
"Charlie, you are neglecting
a part of your duty," he observed to Drouet most affably.
"Between us, though," he went on, "we can show
By his tact he made Drouet feel
that he admired his choice. There was something in his manner that showed
that he was pleased to be there. Drouet
felt really closer to him than ever before. It gave him more respect for
Carrie. Her appearance came
into a new light, under Hurstwood's appreciation.
The situation livened considerably.
"Now, let me see," said
Hurstwood, looking over Carrie's shoulder very deferentially.
"What have you?" He studied for a moment. "That's
rather good," he said.
Now, I'll show you how to trounce your husband. You take my
"Here," said Drouet,
"if you two are going to scheme together, I won't stand a ghost of a
show. Hurstwood's a regular
"No, it's your wife.
She brings me luck. Why
shouldn't she win?"
Carrie looked gratefully at
Hurstwood, and smiled at Drouet. The
former took the air of a mere friend. He
was simply there to enjoy himself. Anything
that Carrie did was pleasing to him, nothing more.
"There," he said,
holding back one of his own good cards, and giving Carrie a chance to take a
trick. "I count that
clever playing for a beginner."
The latter laughed gleefully as
she saw the hand coming her way. It was as if she were invincible when
Hurstwood helped her.
He did not look at her often.
When he did, it was with a mild light in his eye.
Not a shade was there of anything save geniality and kindness.
He took back the shifty, clever gleam, and replaced it with one of
innocence. Carrie could not
guess but that it was pleasure with him in the immediate thing.
She felt that he considered she was doing a great deal.
"It's unfair to let such
playing go without earning something," he said after a time, slipping
his finger into the little coin pocket of his coat.
"Let's play for dimes."
"All right," said
Drouet, fishing for bills.
Hurstwood was quicker.
His fingers were full of new ten-cent pieces.
"Here we are," he said, supplying each one with a little
"Oh, this is gambling,"
smiled Carrie. "It's
"No," said Drouet,
"only fun. If you never
play for more than that, you will go to Heaven."
"Don't you moralise,"
said Hurstwood to Carrie gently, "until you see what becomes of the
"If your husband gets them,
he'll tell you how bad it is."
Drouet laughed loud.
There was such an ingratiating
tone about Hurstwood's voice, the insinuation was so perceptible that even
Carrie got the humour of it.
"When do you leave?"
said Hurstwood to Drouet.
"On Wednesday," he
"It's rather hard to have
your husband running about like that, isn't it?" said Hurstwood,
"She's going along with me
this time," said Drouet.
"You must both go with me to
the theatre before you go."
Drouet. "Eh, Carrie?"
"I'd like it ever so
much," she replied.
Hurstwood did his best to see
that Carrie won the money. He
rejoiced in her success, kept counting her winnings, and finally gathered
and put them in her extended hand. They
spread a little lunch, at which he served the wine, and afterwards he used
fine tact in going.
"Now," he said,
addressing first Carrie and then Drouet with his eyes, "you must be
ready at 7.30. I'll come and
They went with him to the door
and there was his cab waiting, its red lamps gleaming cheerfully in the
"Now," he observed to
Drouet, with a tone of good-fellowship, "when you leave your wife
alone, you must let me show her around a little.
It will break up her loneliness."
"Sure," said Drouet,
quite pleased at the attention shown.
"You're so kind,"
"Not at all," said
Hurstwood, "I would want your husband to do as much for me."
He smiled and went lightly away.
Carrie was thoroughly impressed.
She had never come in contact with such grace.
As for Drouet, he was equally pleased.
"There's a nice man,"
he remarked to Carrie, as they returned to their cosey chamber.
"A good friend of mine, too."
"He seems to be," said
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