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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
His Credentials Accepted--A Babel Of Tongues
It was not quite two days after
the scene between Carrie and Hurstwood in the Ogden Place parlour before
he again put in his appearance. He
had been thinking almost uninterruptedly of her. Her leniency had, in a
way, inflamed his regard. He
felt that he must succeed with her, and that speedily.
The reason for his interest, not
to say fascination, was deeper than mere desire.
It was a flowering out of feelings which had been withering in dry
and almost barren soil for many years.
It is probable that Carrie represented a better order of woman than
had ever attracted him before. He
had had no love affair since that which culminated in his marriage, and
since then time and the world had taught him how raw and erroneous was his
original judgment. Whenever
he thought of it, he told himself that, if he had it to do over again, he
would never marry such a woman. At
the same time, his experience with women in general had lessened his
respect for the sex. He maintained a cynical attitude, well grounded on numerous
experiences. Such women as he
had known were of nearly one type, selfish, ignorant, flashy. The wives of his friends were not inspiring to look upon.
His own wife had developed a cold, commonplace nature which to him
was anything but pleasing. What
he knew of that under-world where grovel the beat-men of society (and he
knew a great deal) had hardened his nature.
He looked upon most women with suspicion--a single eye to the
utility of beauty and dress. He
followed them with a keen, suggestive glance.
At the same time, he was not so dull but that a good woman
commanded his respect. Personally, he did not attempt to analyse the marvel of a
saintly woman. He would take
off his hat, and would silence the light-tongued and the vicious in her
presence--much as the Irish keeper of a Bowery hall will humble himself
before a Sister of Mercy, and pay toll to charity with a willing and
reverent hand. But he would not think much upon the question of why he did
A man in his situation who comes,
after a long round of worthless or hardening experiences, upon a young,
unsophisticated, innocent soul, is apt either to hold aloof, out of a sense
of his own remoteness, or to draw near and become fascinated and elated by
his discovery. It is only by a
roundabout process that such men ever do draw near such a girl. They have no method, no understanding of how to ingratiate
themselves in youthful favour, save when they find virtue in the toils.
If, unfortunately, the fly has got caught in the net, the spider can
come forth and talk business upon its own terms.
So when maidenhood has wandered into the moil of the city, when it is
brought within the circle of the "rounder" and the roue, even
though it be at the outermost rim, they can come forth and use their
Hurstwood had gone, at Drouet's
invitation, to meet a new baggage of fine clothes and pretty features.
He entered, expecting to indulge in an evening of lightsome frolic,
and then lose track of the newcomer forever.
Instead he found a woman whose youth and beauty attracted him.
In the mild light of Carrie's eye was nothing of the calculation of
the mistress. In the diffident
manner was nothing of the art of the courtesan.
He saw at once that a mistake had been made, that some difficult
conditions had pushed this troubled creature into his presence, and his
interest was enlisted. Here
sympathy sprang to the rescue, but it was not unmixed with selfishness. He
wanted to win Carrie because he thought her fate mingled with his was better
than if it were united with Drouet's. He
envied the drummer his conquest as he had never envied any man in all the
course of his experience.
Carrie was certainly better than
this man, as she was superior, mentally, to Drouet.
She came fresh from the air of the village, the light of the country
still in her eye. Here was
neither guile nor rapacity. There
were slight inherited traits of both in her, but they were rudimentary.
She was too full of wonder and desire to be greedy.
She still looked about her upon the great maze of the city without
understanding. Hurstwood felt the bloom and the youth. He picked her as he would the fresh fruit of a tree.
He felt as fresh in her presence as one who is taken out of the flash
of summer to the first cool breath of spring.
Carrie, left alone since the
scene in question, and having no one with whom to counsel, had at first
wandered from one strange mental conclusion to another, until at last, tired
out, she gave it up. She owed
something to Drouet, she thought. It
did not seem more than yesterday that he had aided her when she was worried
and distressed. She had the
kindliest feelings for him in every way.
She gave him credit for his good looks, his generous feelings, and
even, in fact, failed to recollect his egotism when he was absent; but she
could not feel any binding influence keeping her for him as against all
others. In fact, such a thought
had never had any grounding, even in Drouet's desires.
The truth is, that this goodly
drummer carried the doom of all enduring relationships in his own lightsome
manner and unstable fancy. He
went merrily on, assured that he was alluring all, that affection followed
tenderly in his wake, that things would endure unchangingly for his
pleasure. When he missed some
old face, or found some door finally shut to him, it did not grieve him
deeply. He was too young, too
successful. He would remain
thus young in spirit until he was dead.
As for Hurstwood, he was alive
with thoughts and feelings concerning Carrie.
He had no definite plans regarding her, but he was determined to make
her confess an affection for him. He
thought he saw in her drooping eye, her unstable glance, her wavering
manner, the symptoms of a budding passion.
He wanted to stand near her and make her lay her hand in his--he
wanted to find out what her next step would be--what the next sign of
feeling for him would be. Such
anxiety and enthusiasm had not affected him for years.
He was a youth again in feeling--a cavalier in action.
In his position opportunity for
taking his evenings out was excellent.
He was a most faithful worker in general, and a man who commanded the
confidence of his employers in so far as the distribution of his time was
concerned. He could take such
hours off as he chose, for it was well known that he fulfilled his
managerial duties successfully, whatever time he might take.
His grace, tact, and ornate appearance gave the place an air which
was most essential, while at the same time his long experience made him a
most excellent judge of its stock necessities. Bartenders and assistants
might come and go, singly or in groups, but, so long as he was present, the
host of old-time customers would barely notice the change.
He gave the place the atmosphere to which they were used.
Consequently, he arranged his hours very much to suit himself, taking
now an afternoon, now an evening, but invariably returning between eleven
and twelve to witness the last hour or two of the day's business and look
after the closing details.
"You see that things are
safe and all the employees are out when you go home, George," Moy had
once remarked to him, and he never once, in all the period of his long
service, neglected to do this. Neither
of the owners had for years been in the resort after five in the afternoon,
and yet their manager as faithfully fulfilled this request as if they had
been there regularly to observe.
On this Friday afternoon,
scarcely two days after his previous visit, he made up his mind to see
Carrie. He could not stay away
"Evans," he said,
addressing the head barkeeper, "if any one calls, I will be back
between four and five."
He hurried to Madison Street and
boarded a horse-car, which carried him to Ogden Place in half an hour.
Carrie had thought of going for a
walk, and had put on a light grey woollen dress with a jaunty
double-breasted jacket. She had
out her hat and gloves, and was fastening a white lace tie about her throat
when the housemaid brought up the information that Mr. Hurstwood wished to
She started slightly at the
announcement, but told the girl to say that she would come down in a moment,
and proceeded to hasten her dressing.
Carrie could not have told
herself at this moment whether she was glad or sorry that the impressive
manager was awaiting her presence. She
was slightly flurried and tingling in the cheeks, but it was more
nervousness than either fear or favour.
She did not try to conjecture what the drift of the conversation
would be. She only felt that
she must be careful, and that Hurstwood had an indefinable fascination for
her. Then she gave her tie its
last touch with her fingers and went below.
The deep-feeling manager was
himself a little strained in the nerves by the thorough consciousness of his
mission. He felt that he must
make a strong play on this occasion, but now that the hour was come, and he
heard Carrie's feet upon the stair, his nerve failed him. He sank a little in determination, for he was not so sure,
after all, what her opinion might be.
When she entered the room,
however, her appearance gave him courage.
She looked simple and charming enough to strengthen the daring of any
lover. Her apparent nervousness
dispelled his own.
"How are you?" he said,
easily. "I could not
resist the temptation to come out this afternoon, it was so pleasant."
"Yes," said Carrie,
halting before him, "I was just preparing to go for a walk
"Oh, were you?" he
said. "Supposing, then,
you get your hat and we both go?"
They crossed the park and went
west along Washington Boulevard, beautiful with its broad macadamised road,
and large frame houses set back from the sidewalks.
It was a street where many of the more prosperous residents of the
West Side lived, and Hurstwood could not help feeling nervous over the
publicity of it. They had gone
but a few blocks when a livery stable sign in one of the side streets solved
the difficulty for him. He
would take her to drive along the new Boulevard.
The Boulevard at that time was
little more than a country road. The part he intended showing her was much
farther out on this same West Side, where there was scarcely a house.
It connected Douglas Park with Washington or South Park, and was
nothing more than a neatly MADE road, running due south for some five miles
over an open, grassy prairie, and then due east over the same kind of
prairie for the same distance. There was not a house to be encountered anywhere along the
larger part of the route, and any conversation would be pleasantly free of
At the stable he picked a gentle
horse, and they were soon out of range of either public observation or
"Can you drive?" he
said, after a time.
"I never tried," said
He put the reins in her hand, and
folded his arms.
"You see there's nothing to
it much," he said, smilingly.
"Not when you have a gentle
horse," said Carrie.
"You can handle a horse as
well as any one, after a little practice," he added, encouragingly.
He had been looking for some time
for a break in the conversation when he could give it a serious turn.
Once or twice he had held his peace, hoping that in silence her
thoughts would take the colour of his own, but she had lightly continued the
subject. Presently, however, his silence controlled the situation.
The drift of his thoughts began to tell.
He gazed fixedly at nothing in particular, as if he were thinking of
something which concerned her not at all.
His thoughts, however, spoke for themselves.
She was very much aware that a climax was pending.
"Do you know," he said,
"I have spent the happiest evenings in years since I have known
"Have you?" she said,
with assumed airiness, but still excited by the conviction which the tone of
his voice carried.
"I was going to tell you the
other evening," he added, "but somehow the opportunity slipped
Carrie was listening without
attempting to reply. She could
think of nothing worth while to say. Despite
all the ideas concerning right which had troubled her vaguely since she had
last seen him, she was now influenced again strongly in his favour.
"I came out here
to-day," he went on, solemnly, "to tell you just how I feel--to
see if you wouldn't listen to me."
Hurstwood was something of a
romanticist after his kind. He
was capable of strong feelings--often poetic ones--and under a stress of
desire, such as the present, he waxed eloquent.
That is, his feelings and his voice were coloured with that seeming
repression and pathos which is the essence of eloquence.
"You know," he said,
putting his hand on her arm, and keeping a strange silence while he
formulated words, "that I love you?" Carrie did not stir at the
words. She was bound up
completely in the man's atmosphere. He
would have churchlike silence in order to express his feelings, and she kept
it. She did not move her eyes
from the flat, open scene before her. Hurstwood
waited for a few moments, and then repeated the words.
"You must not say
that," she said, weakly.
Her words were not convincing at
all. They were the result of a
feeble thought that something ought to be said.
He paid no attention to them whatever.
"Carrie," he said,
using her first name with sympathetic familiarity, "I want you to love
me. You don't know how much I
need some one to waste a little affection on me.
I am practically alone. There
is nothing in my life that is pleasant or delightful.
It's all work and worry with people who are nothing to me."
As he said this, Hurstwood really
imagined that his state was pitiful. He
had the ability to get off at a distance and view himself objectively--of
seeing what he wanted to see in the things which made up his existence.
Now, as he spoke, his voice trembled with that peculiar vibration
which is the result of tensity. It
went ringing home to his companion's heart.
"Why, I should think,"
she said, turning upon him large eyes which were full of sympathy and
feeling, "that you would be very happy.
You know so much of the world."
"That is it," he said,
his voice dropping to a soft minor, "I know too much of the
It was an important thing to her
to hear one so well-positioned and powerful speaking in this manner.
She could not help feeling the strangeness of her situation.
How was it that, in so little a while, the narrow life of the country
had fallen from her as a garment, and the city, with all its mystery, taken
its place? Here was this greatest mystery, the man of money and affairs
sitting beside her, appealing to her. Behold,
he had ease and comfort, his strength was great, his position high, his
clothing rich, and yet he was appealing to her.
She could formulate no thought which would be just and right.
She troubled herself no more upon the matter. She only basked in the warmth of his feeling, which was as a
grateful blaze to one who is cold. Hurstwood glowed with his own intensity,
and the heat of his passion was already melting the wax of his companion's
"You think," he said,
"I am happy; that I ought not to complain? If you were to meet all day
with people who care absolutely nothing about you, if you went day after day
to a place where there was nothing but show and indifference, if there was
not one person in all those you knew to whom you could appeal for sympathy
or talk to with pleasure, perhaps you would be unhappy too.
He was striking a chord now which
found sympathetic response in her own situation.
She knew what it was to meet with people who were indifferent, to
walk alone amid so many who cared absolutely nothing about you.
Had not she? Was not she at this very moment quite alone?
Who was there among all whom she knew to whom she could appeal for
sympathy? Not one.
She was left to herself to brood and wonder.
"I could be content,"
went on Hurstwood, "if I had you to love me.
If I had you to go to; you for a companion. As it is, I simply move about from place to place without any
satisfaction. Time hangs heavily on my hands.
Before you came I did nothing but idle and drift into anything that
offered itself. Since you
came--well, I've had you to think about."
The old illusion that here was
some one who needed her aid began to grow in Carrie's mind. She truly pitied this sad, lonely figure.
To think that all his fine state should be so barren for want of her;
that he needed to make such an appeal when she herself was lonely and
without anchor. Surely, this
was too bad.
"I am not very bad," he
said, apologetically, as if he owed it to her to explain on this score.
"You think, probably, that I roam around, and get into all sorts
of evil? I have been rather
reckless, but I could easily come out of that.
I need you to draw me back, if my life ever amounts to
Carrie looked at him with the
tenderness which virtue ever feels in its hope of reclaiming vice.
How could such a man need reclaiming?
His errors, what were they, that she could correct? Small they must
be, where all was so fine. At worst, they were gilded affairs, and with what leniency
are gilded errors viewed. He put himself in such a lonely light that she was
"Is it that way?" she
He slipped his arm about her
waist, and she could not find the heart to draw away.
With his free hand he seized upon her fingers. A breath of soft spring wind went bounding over the road,
rolling some brown twigs of the previous autumn before it. The horse paced
leisurely on, unguided.
"Tell me," he said,
softly, "that you love me."
Her eyes fell consciously.
"Own to it, dear," he
said, feelingly; "you do, don't you?"
She made no answer, but he felt his victory.
"Tell me," he said,
richly, drawing her so close that their lips were near together.
He pressed her hand warmly, and then released it to touch her cheek.
"You do?" he said,
pressing his lips to her own.
For answer, her lips replied.
"Now," he said,
joyously, his fine eyes ablaze, "you're my own girl, aren't you?"
By way of further conclusion, her
head lay softly upon his shoulder.
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