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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
Of The Lamps Of The Mansions--The Ambassador Plea
Mrs. Hurstwood was not aware of
any of her husband's moral defections, though she might readily have
suspected his tendencies, which she well understood.
She was a woman upon whose action under provocation you could never
count. Hurstwood, for one,
had not the slightest idea of what she would do under certain
circumstances. He had never
seen her thoroughly aroused. In fact, she was not a woman who would fly
into a passion. She had too
little faith in mankind not to know that they were erring.
She was too calculating to jeopardize any advantage she might gain
in the way of information by fruitless clamour.
Her wrath would never wreak itself in one fell blow.
She would wait and brood, studying the details and adding to them
until her power might be commensurate with her desire for revenge.
At the same time, she would not delay to inflict any injury, big or
little, which would wound the object of her revenge and still leave him
uncertain as to the source of the evil.
She was a cold, self-centred woman, with many a thought of her own
which never found expression, not even by so much as the glint of an eye.
Hurstwood felt some of this in
her nature, though he did not actually perceive it.
He dwelt with her in peace and some satisfaction.
He did not fear her in the least--there was no cause for it.
She still took a faint pride in him, which was augmented by her
desire to have her social integrity maintained. She was secretly somewhat
pleased by the fact that much of her husband's property was in her name, a
precaution which Hurstwood had taken when his home interests were somewhat
more alluring than at present. His
wife had not the slightest reason to feel that anything would ever go
amiss with their household, and yet the shadows which run before gave her
a thought of the good of it now and then.
She was in a position to become refractory with considerable
advantage, and Hurstwood conducted himself circumspectly because he felt
that he could not be sure of anything once she became dissatisfied.
It so happened that on the night
when Hurstwood, Carrie, and Drouet were in the box at McVickar's, George,
Jr., was in the sixth row of the parquet with the daughter of H. B.
Carmichael, the third partner of a wholesale dry-goods house of that city.
Hurstwood did not see his son, for he sat, as was his wont, as far back as
possible, leaving himself just partially visible, when he bent forward, to
those within the first six rows in question.
It was his wont to sit this way in every theatre--to make his
personality as inconspicuous as possible where it would be no advantage to
him to have it otherwise.
He never moved but what, if there
was any danger of his conduct being misconstrued or ill-reported, he
looked carefully about him and counted the cost of every inch of
The next morning at breakfast his
"I saw you, Governor, last
"Were you at McVickar's?"
said Hurstwood, with the best grace in the world.
"Yes," said young
Mrs. Hurstwood directed an
inquiring glance at her husband, but could not judge from his appearance
whether it was any more than a casual look into the theatre which was
"How was the play?" she
"Very good," returned
Hurstwood, "only it's the same old thing, 'Rip Van Winkle.'"
"Whom did you go with?"
queried his wife, with assumed indifference.
"Charlie Drouet and his
wife. They are friends of
Moy's, visiting here."
Owing to the peculiar nature of
his position, such a disclosure as this would ordinarily create no
difficulty. His wife took it
for granted that his situation called for certain social movements in which
she might not be included. But
of late he had pleaded office duty on several occasions when his wife asked
for his company to any evening entertainment.
He had done so in regard to the very evening in question only the
"I thought you were going to
be busy," she remarked, very carefully.
"So I was," he
exclaimed. "I couldn't
help the interruption, but I made up for it afterward by working until
This settled the discussion for
the time being, but there was a residue of opinion which was not
satisfactory. There was no time
at which the claims of his wife could have been more unsatisfactorily
pushed. For years he had been steadily modifying his matrimonial
devotion, and found her company dull. Now that a new light shone upon the
horizon, this older luminary paled in the west. He was satisfied to turn his face away entirely, and any call
to look back was irksome.
She, on the contrary, was not at
all inclined to accept anything less than a complete fulfilment of the
letter of their relationship, though the spirit might be wanting.
"We are coming down town
this afternoon," she remarked, a few days later. "I want you to come over to Kinsley's and meet Mr.
Phillips and his wife. They're
stopping at the Tremont, and we're going to show them around a little."
After the occurrence of
Wednesday, he could not refuse, though the Phillips were about as
uninteresting as vanity and ignorance could make them.
He agreed, but it was with short grace.
He was angry when he left the house.
"I'll put a stop to
this," he thought. "I'm
not going to be bothered fooling around with visitors when I have work to
Not long after this Mrs.
Hurstwood came with a similar proposition, only it was to a matinee this
"My dear," he returned,
"I haven't time. I'm too
"You find time to go with
other people, though," she replied, with considerable irritation.
"Nothing of the kind,"
he answered. "I can't
avoid business relations, and that's all there is to it."
"Well, never mind," she
exclaimed. Her lips tightened.
The feeling of mutual antagonism was increased.
On the other hand, his interest
in Drouet's little shop-girl grew in an almost evenly balanced proportion.
That young lady, under the stress of her situation and the tutelage
of her new friend, changed effectively.
She had the aptitude of the struggler who seeks emancipation.
The glow of a more showy life was not lost upon her.
She did not grow in knowledge so much as she awakened in the matter
of desire. Mrs. Hale's extended
harangues upon the subjects of wealth and position taught her to distinguish
between degrees of wealth. Mrs. Hale loved to drive in the afternoon in the
sun when it was fine, and to satisfy her soul with a sight of those mansions
and lawns which she could not afford. On
the North Side had been erected a number of elegant mansions along what is
now known as the North Shore Drive. The
present lake wall of stone and granitoid was not then in place, but the road
had been well laid out, the intermediate spaces of lawn were lovely to look
upon, and the houses were thoroughly new and imposing.
When the winter season had passed and the first fine days of the
early spring appeared, Mrs. Hale secured a buggy for an afternoon and
invited Carrie. They rode first
through Lincoln Park and on far out towards Evanston, turning back at four
and arriving at the north end of the Shore Drive at about five o'clock.
At this time of year the days are still comparatively short, and the
shadows of the evening were beginning to settle down upon the great city.
Lamps were beginning to burn with that mellow radiance which seems almost
watery and translucent to the eye. There
was a softness in the air which speaks with an infinite delicacy of feeling
to the flesh as well as to the soul. Carrie
felt that it was a lovely day. She
was ripened by it in spirit for many suggestions.
As they drove along the smooth pavement an occasional carriage
passed. She saw one stop and
the footman dismount, opening the door for a gentleman who seemed to be
leisurely returning from some afternoon pleasure.
Across the broad lawns, now first freshening into green, she saw
lamps faintly glowing upon rich interiors.
Now it was but a chair, now a table, now an ornate corner, which met
her eye, but it appealed to her as almost nothing else could.
Such childish fancies as she had had of fairy palaces and kingly
quarters now came back. She imagined that across these richly carved
entrance-ways, where the globed and crystalled lamps shone upon panelled
doors set with stained and designed panes of glass, was neither care nor
unsatisfied desire. She was
perfectly certain that here was happiness.
If she could but stroll up yon broad walk, cross that rich
entrance-way, which to her was of the beauty of a jewel, and sweep in grace
and luxury to possession and command--oh! how quickly would sadness flee;
how, in an instant, would the heartache end.
She gazed and gazed, wondering, delighting, longing, and all the
while the siren voice of the unrestful was whispering in her ear.
"If we could have such a
home as that," said Mrs. Hale sadly, "how delightful it would
"And yet they do say,"
said Carrie, "that no one is ever happy."
She had heard so much of the
canting philosophy of the grapeless fox.
"I notice," said Mrs.
Hale, "that they all try mighty hard, though, to take their misery in a
When she came to her own rooms,
Carrie saw their comparative insignificance.
She was not so dull but that she could perceive they were but three
small rooms in a moderately well-furnished boarding-house.
She was not contrasting it now with what she had had, but what she
had so recently seen. The glow
of the palatial doors was still in her eye, the roll of cushioned carriages
still in her ears. What, after
all, was Drouet? What was she?
At her window, she thought it over, rocking to and fro, and gazing
out across the lamp-lit park toward the lamp-lit houses on Warren and
Ashland avenues. She was too
wrought up to care to go down to eat, too pensive to do aught but rock and
sing. Some old tunes crept to
her lips, and, as she sang them, her heart sank.
She longed and longed and longed.
It was now for the old cottage room in Columbia City, now the mansion
upon the Shore Drive, now the fine dress of some lady, now the elegance of
some scene. She was sad beyond
measure, and yet uncertain, wishing, fancying. Finally, it seemed as if all
her state was one of loneliness and forsakenness, and she could scarce
refrain from trembling at the lip. She
hummed and hummed as the moments went by, sitting in the shadow by the
window, and was therein as happy, though she did not perceive it, as she
ever would be.
While Carrie was still in this
frame of mind, the house-servant brought up the intelligence that Mr.
Hurstwood was in the parlour asking to see Mr. and Mrs. Drouet.
"I guess he doesn't know that Charlie is out of town,"
She had seen comparatively little
of the manager during the winter, but had been kept constantly in mind of
him by one thing and another, principally by the strong impression he had
made. She was quite disturbed for the moment as to her appearance, but soon
satisfied herself by the aid of the mirror, and went below.
Hurstwood was in his best form,
as usual. He hadn't heard that
Drouet was out of town. He was
but slightly affected by the intelligence, and devoted himself to the more
general topics which would interest Carrie.
It was surprising--the ease with which he conducted a conversation.
He was like every man who has had the advantage of practice and knows
he has sympathy. He knew that Carrie listened to him pleasurably, and, without
the least effort, he fell into a train of observation which absorbed her
fancy. He drew up his chair and
modulated his voice to such a degree that what he said seemed wholly
confidential. He confined
himself almost exclusively to his observation of men and pleasures.
He had been here and there, he had seen this and that.
Somehow he made Carrie wish to see similar things, and all the while
kept her aware of himself. She could not shut out the consciousness of his individuality
and presence for a moment. He
would raise his eyes slowly in smiling emphasis of something, and she was
fixed by their magnetism. He
would draw out, with the easiest grace, her approval.
Once he touched her hand for emphasis and she only smiled. He seemed to radiate an atmosphere which suffused her being.
He was never dull for a minute, and seemed to make her clever.
At least, she brightened under his influence until all her best side
was exhibited. She felt that
she was more clever with him than with others.
At least, he seemed to find so much in her to applaud.
There was not the slightest touch of patronage.
Drouet was full of it.
There had been something so
personal, so subtle, in each meeting between them, both when Drouet was
present and when he was absent, that Carrie could not speak of it without
feeling a sense of difficulty. She
was no talker. She could never
arrange her thoughts in fluent order. It
was always a matter of feeling with her, strong and deep.
Each time there had been no sentence of importance which she could
relate, and as for the glances and sensations, what woman would reveal them?
Such things had never been between her and Drouet.
As a matter of fact, they could never be.
She had been dominated by distress and the enthusiastic forces of
relief which Drouet represented at an opportune moment when she yielded to
him. Now she was persuaded by
secret current feelings which Drouet had never understood. Hurstwood's
glance was as effective as the spoken words of a lover, and more.
They called for no immediate decision, and could not be answered.
People in general attach too much
importance to words. They are
under the illusion that talking effects great results.
As a matter of fact, words are, as a rule, the shallowest portion of
all the argument. They but
dimly represent the great surging feelings and desires which lie behind.
When the distraction of the tongue is removed, the heart listens.
In this conversation she heard,
instead of his words, the voices of the things which he represented.
How suave was the counsel of his appearance!
How feelingly did his superior state speak for itself!
The growing desire he felt for her lay upon her spirit as a gentle
hand. She did not need to
tremble at all, because it was invisible; she did not need to worry over
what other people would say--what she herself would say--because it had no
tangibility. She was being
pleaded with, persuaded, led into denying old rights and assuming new ones,
and yet there were no words to prove it.
Such conversation as was indulged in held the same relationship to
the actual mental enactments of the twain that the low music of the
orchestra does to the dramatic incident which it is used to cover.
"Have you ever seen the
houses along the Lake Shore on the North Side?" asked Hurstwood.
"Why, I was just over there
this afternoon--Mrs. Hale and I. Aren't they beautiful?"
"They're very fine," he
"Oh, me," said Carrie,
pensively. "I wish I could
live in such a place."
"You're not happy,"
said Hurstwood, slowly, after a slight pause.
He had raised his eyes solemnly
and was looking into her own. He
assumed that he had struck a deep chord. Now
was a slight chance to say a word in his own behalf.
He leaned over quietly and continued his steady gaze.
He felt the critical character of the period.
She endeavoured to stir, but it was useless.
The whole strength of a man's nature was working.
He had good cause to urge him on.
He looked and looked, and the longer the situation lasted the more
difficult it became. The little
shop-girl was getting into deep water.
She was letting her few supports float away from her.
"Oh," she said at last,
"you mustn't look at me like that."
"I can't help it," he
She relaxed a little and let the
situation endure, giving him strength.
"You are not satisfied with
life, are you?"
"No," she answered,
He saw he was the master of the
situation--he felt it. He
reached over and touched her hand.
"You mustn't," she
exclaimed, jumping up.
"I didn't intend to,"
he answered, easily.
She did not run away, as she
might have done. She did not
terminate the interview, but he drifted off into a pleasant field of thought
with the readiest grace. Not
long after he rose to go, and she felt that he was in power. "You
mustn't feel bad," he said, kindly; "things will straighten out in
the course of time."
She made no answer, because she
could think of nothing to say.
"We are good friends, aren't
we?" he said, extending his hand.
"Yes," she answered.
"Not a word, then, until I
see you again."
He retained a hold on her hand.
"I can't promise," she
"You must be more generous
than that," he said, in such a simple way that she was touched.
"Let's not talk about it any
more," she returned.
"All right," he said,
He went down the steps and into
his cab. Carrie closed the door
and ascended into her room. She
undid her broad lace collar before the mirror and unfastened her pretty
alligator belt which she had recently bought.
"I'm getting terrible,"
she said, honestly affected by a feeling of trouble and shame.
"I don't seem to do anything right."
She unloosed her hair after a
time, and let it hang in loose brown waves.
Her mind was going over the events of the evening.
"I don't know," she
murmured at last, "what I can do."
"Well," said Hurstwood
as he rode away, "she likes me all right; that I know."
The aroused manager whistled
merrily for a good four miles to his office an old melody that he had not
recalled for fifteen years.
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