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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
The Blaze Of The Tinder--Flesh Wars With The Flesh
The misfortune of the Hurstwood
household was due to the fact that jealousy, having been born of love, did
not perish with it. Mrs. Hurstwood retained this in such form that
subsequent influences could transform it into hate.
Hurstwood was still worthy, in a physical sense, of the affection
his wife had once bestowed upon him, but in a social sense he fell short.
With his regard died his power to be attentive to her, and this, to
a woman, is much greater than outright crime toward another.
Our self-love dictates our appreciation of the good or evil in
another. In Mrs. Hurstwood it discoloured the very hue of her
husband's indifferent nature. She
saw design in deeds and phrases which sprung only from a faded
appreciation of her presence.
As a consequence, she was
resentful and suspicious. The
jealousy that prompted her to observe every falling away from the little
amenities of the married relation on his part served to give her notice of
the airy grace with which he still took the world.
She could see from the scrupulous care which he exercised in the
matter of his personal appearance that his interest in life had abated not
a jot. Every motion, every
glance had something in it of the pleasure he felt in Carrie, of the zest
this new pursuit of pleasure lent to his days.
Mrs. Hurstwood felt something, sniffing change, as animals do
danger, afar off.
This feeling was strengthened by
actions of a direct and more potent nature on the part of Hurstwood.
We have seen with what irritation he shirked those little duties
which no longer contained any amusement of satisfaction for him, and the
open snarls with which, more recently, he resented her irritating goads.
These little rows were really precipitated by an atmosphere which
was surcharged with dissension. That
it would shower, with a sky so full of blackening thunderclouds, would
scarcely be thought worthy of comment.
Thus, after leaving the breakfast table this morning, raging
inwardly at his blank declaration of indifference at her plans, Mrs.
Hurstwood encountered Jessica in her dressing-room, very leisurely
arranging her hair. Hurstwood
had already left the house.
"I wish you wouldn't be so
late coming down to breakfast," she said, addressing Jessica, while
making for her crochet basket. "Now here the things are quite cold,
and you haven't eaten."
Her natural composure was sadly
ruffled, and Jessica was doomed to feel the fag end of the storm.
"I'm not hungry," she
"Then why don't you say so,
and let the girl put away the things, instead of keeping her waiting all
"She doesn't mind,"
answered Jessica, coolly.
"Well, I do, if she
doesn't," returned the mother, "and, anyhow, I don't like you to
talk that way to me. You're
too young to put on such an air with your mother."
"Oh, mamma, don't
row,"; answered Jessica. "What's
the matter this morning, anyway?"
"Nothing's the matter, and
I'm not rowing. You mustn't
think because I indulge you in some things that you can keep everybody
waiting. I won't have
"I'm not keeping anybody
waiting," returned Jessica, sharply, stirred out of a cynical
indifference to a sharp defence. "I
said I wasn't hungry. I don't
want any breakfast."
"Mind how you address me,
missy. I'll not have it. Hear me now; I'll not have it!"
Jessica heard this last while
walking out of the room, with a toss of her head and a flick of her pretty
skirts indicative of the independence and indifference she felt.
She did not propose to be quarrelled with.
Such little arguments were all
too frequent, the result of a growth of natures which were largely
independent and selfish. George, Jr., manifested even greater touchiness and
exaggeration in the matter of his individual rights, and attempted to make
all feel that he was a man with a man's privileges--an assumption which, of
all things, is most groundless and pointless in a youth of nineteen.
Hurstwood was a man of authority
and some fine feeling, and it irritated him excessively to find himself
surrounded more and more by a world upon which he had no hold, and of which
he had a lessening understanding.
Now, when such little things,
such as the proposed earlier start to Waukesha, came up, they made clear to
him his position. He was being
made to follow, was not leading. When,
in addition, a sharp temper was manifested, and to the process of
shouldering him out of his authority was added a rousing intellectual kick,
such as a sneer or a cynical laugh, he was unable to keep his temper.
He flew into hardly repressed passion, and wished himself clear of
the whole household. It seemed
a most irritating drag upon all his desires and opportunities.
For all this, he still retained
the semblance of leadership and control, even though his wife was straining
to revolt. Her display of
temper and open assertion of opposition were based upon nothing more than
the feeling that she could do it. She
had no special evidence wherewith to justify herself--the knowledge of
something which would give her both authority and excuse.
The latter was all that was lacking, however, to give a solid
foundation to what, in a way, seemed groundless discontent.
The clear proof of one overt deed was the cold breath needed to
convert the lowering clouds of suspicion into a rain of wrath.
An inkling of untoward deeds on
the part of Hurstwood had come. Doctor Beale, the handsome resident
physician of the neighbourhood, met Mrs. Hurstwood at her own doorstep some
days after Hurstwood and Carrie had taken the drive west on Washington
Boulevard. Dr. Beale, coming
east on the same drive, had recognised Hurstwood, but not before he was
quite past him. He was not so
sure of Carrie--did not know whether it was Hurstwood's wife or daughter.
"You don't speak to your
friends when you meet them out driving, do you?" he said, jocosely, to
"If I see them, I do.
Where was I?"
Boulevard." he answered, expecting her eye to light with immediate
She shook her head.
"Yes, out near Hoyne Avenue.
You were with your husband."
"I guess you're
mistaken," she answered. Then,
remembering her husband's part in the affair, she immediately fell a prey to
a host of young suspicions, of which, however, she gave no sign.
"I know I saw your
husband," he went on. "I
wasn't so sure about you. Perhaps
it was your daughter."
"Perhaps it was," said
Mrs. Hurstwood, knowing full well that such was not the case, as Jessica had
been her companion for weeks. She
had recovered herself sufficiently to wish to know more of the details.
"Was it in the
afternoon?" she asked, artfully, assuming an air of acquaintanceship
with the matter.
"Yes, about two or
"It must have been
Jessica," said Mrs. Hurstwood, not wishing to seem to attach any
importance to the incident.
The physician had a thought or
two of his own, but dismissed the matter as worthy of no further discussion
on his part at least.
Mrs. Hurstwood gave this bit of
information considerable thought during the next few hours, and even days.
She took it for granted that the doctor had really seen her husband,
and that he had been riding, most likely, with some other woman, after
announcing himself as BUSY to her. As a consequence, she recalled, with rising feeling, how
often he had refused to go to places with her, to share in little visits,
or, indeed, take part in any of the social amenities which furnished the
diversion of her existence. He
had been seen at the theatre with people whom he called Moy's friends; now
he was seen driving, and, most likely, would have an excuse for that.
Perhaps there were others of whom she did not hear, or why should he
be so busy, so indifferent, of late? In the last six weeks he had become
strangely irritable--strangely satisfied to pick up and go out, whether
things were right or wrong in the house.
She recalled, with more subtle
emotions, that he did not look at her now with any of the old light of
satisfaction or approval in his eye. Evidently,
along with other things, he was taking her to be getting old and
uninteresting. He saw her
wrinkles, perhaps. She was
fading, while he was still preening himself in his elegance and youth.
He was still an interested factor in the merry-makings of the world,
while she--but she did not pursue the thought.
She only found the whole situation bitter, and hated him for it
Nothing came of this incident at
the time, for the truth is it did not seem conclusive enough to warrant any
discussion. Only the atmosphere
of distrust and ill-feeling was strengthened, precipitating every now and
then little sprinklings of irritable conversation, enlivened by flashes of
wrath. The matter of the
Waukesha outing was merely a continuation of other things of the same
The day after Carrie's appearance
on the Avery stage, Mrs. Hurstwood visited the races with Jessica and a
youth of her acquaintance, Mr. Bart Taylor, the son of the owner of a local
house-furnishing establishment. They
had driven out early, and, as it chanced, encountered several friends of
Hurstwood, all Elks, and two of whom had attended the performance the
evening before. A thousand
chances the subject of the performance had never been brought up had Jessica
not been so engaged by the attentions of her young companion, who usurped as
much time as possible. This
left Mrs. Hurstwood in the mood to extend the perfunctory greetings of some
who knew her into short conversations, and the short conversations of
friends into long ones. It was
from one who meant but to greet her perfunctorily that this interesting
"I see," said this
individual, who wore sporting clothes of the most attractive pattern, and
had a field-glass strung over his shoulder, "that you did not get over
to our little entertainment last evening."
"No?" said Mrs.
Hurstwood, inquiringly, and wondering why he should be using the tone he did
in noting the fact that she had not been to something she knew nothing
about. It was on her lips to
say, "What was it?" when he added, "I saw your husband."
Her wonder was at once replaced
by the more subtle quality of suspicion.
"Yes," she said,
cautiously, "was it pleasant? He did not tell me much about it."
"Very. Really one of the best private theatricals I ever attended.
There was one actress who surprised us all."
"Indeed," said Mrs.
"It's too bad you couldn't
have been there, really. I was
sorry to hear you weren't feeling well."
Feeling well! Mrs. Hurstwood
could have echoed the words after him open-mouthed.
As it was, she extricated herself from her mingled impulse to deny
and question, and said, almost raspingly:
"Yes, it is too bad."
"Looks like there will be
quite a crowd here to-day, doesn't it?" the acquaintance observed,
drifting off upon another topic.
The manager's wife would have
questioned farther, but she saw no opportunity.
She was for the moment wholly at sea, anxious to think for herself,
and wondering what new deception was this which caused him to give out that
she was ill when she was not. Another case of her company not wanted, and
excuses being made. She resolved to find out more.
"Were you at the performance
last evening?" she asked of the next of Hurstwood's friends who greeted
her as she sat in her box.
"Yes. You didn't get around."
"No," she answered,
"I was not feeling very well."
"So your husband told
me," he answered. "Well,
it was really very enjoyable. Turned
out much better than I expected."
"Were there many
"The house was full.
It was quite an Elk night. I
saw quite a number of your friends--Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Barnes, Mrs.
"Quite a social
"Indeed it was.
My wife enjoyed it very much."
Mrs. Hurstwood bit her lip.
"So," she thought,
"that's the way he does. Tells
my friends I am sick and cannot come."
She wondered what could induce
him to go alone. There was
something back of this. She
rummaged her brain for a reason.
By evening, when Hurstwood
reached home, she had brooded herself into a state of sullen desire for
explanation and revenge. She
wanted to know what this peculiar action of his imported.
She was certain there was more behind it all than what she had heard,
and evil curiosity mingled well with distrust and the remnants of her wrath
of the morning. She, impending
disaster itself, walked about with gathered shadow at the eyes and the
rudimentary muscles of savagery fixing the hard lines of her mouth.
On the other hand, as we may well
believe, the manager came home in the sunniest mood.
His conversation and agreement with Carrie had raised his spirits
until he was in the frame of mind of one who sings joyously.
He was proud of himself, proud of his success, proud of Carrie.
He could have been genial to all the world, and he bore no grudge
against his wife. He meant to
be pleasant, to forget her presence, to live in the atmosphere of youth and
pleasure which had been restored to him.
So now, the house, to his mind,
had a most pleasing and comfortable appearance.
In the hall he found an evening paper, laid there by the maid and
forgotten by Mrs. Hurstwood. In
the dining-room the table was clean laid with linen and napery and shiny
with glasses and decorated china. Through
an open door he saw into the kitchen, where the fire was crackling in the
stove and the evening meal already well under way.
Out in the small back yard was George, Jr., frolicking with a young
dog he had recently purchased, and in the parlour Jessica was playing at the
piano, the sounds of a merry waltz filling every nook and corner of the
comfortable home. Every one,
like himself, seemed to have regained his good spirits, to be in sympathy
with youth and beauty, to be inclined to joy and merry-making.
He felt as if he could say a good word all around himself, and took a
most genial glance at the spread table and polished sideboard before going
upstairs to read his paper in the comfortable armchair of the sitting-room
which looked through the open windows into the street.
When he entered there, however, he found his wife brushing her hair
and musing to herself the while.
He came lightly in, thinking to
smooth over any feeling that might still exist by a kindly word and a ready
promise, but Mrs. Hurstwood said nothing.
He seated himself in the large chair, stirred lightly in making
himself comfortable, opened his paper, and began to read.
In a few moments he was smiling merrily over a very comical account
of a baseball game which had taken place between the Chicago and Detroit
The while he was doing this Mrs.
Hurstwood was observing him casually through the medium of the mirror which
was before her. She noticed his pleasant and contented manner, his airy
grace and smiling humour, and it merely aggravated her the more.
She wondered how he could think to carry himself so in her presence
after the cynicism, indifference, and neglect he had heretofore manifested
and would continue to manifest so long as she would endure it.
She thought how she should like to tell him--what stress and emphasis
she would lend her assertions, how she should drive over this whole affair
until satisfaction should be rendered her.
Indeed, the shining sword of her wrath was but weakly suspended by a
thread of thought.
In the meanwhile Hurstwood
encountered a humorous item concerning a stranger who had arrived in the
city and became entangled with a bunco-steerer.
It amused him immensely, and at last he stirred and chuckled to
himself. He wished that he
might enlist his wife's attention and read it to her.
"Ha, ha," he exclaimed
softly, as if to himself, "that's funny."
Mrs. Hurstwood kept on arranging
her hair, not so much as deigning a glance.
He stirred again and went on to
another subject. At last he
felt as if his good-humour must find some outlet.
Julia was probably still out of humour over that affair of this
morning, but that could easily be straightened.
As a matter of fact, she was in the wrong, but he didn't care.
She could go to Waukesha right away if she wanted to.
The sooner the better. He
would tell her that as soon as he got a chance, and the whole thing would
"Did you notice," he
said, at last, breaking forth concerning another item which he had found,
"that they have entered suit to compel the Illinois Central to get off
the lake front, Julia?" he asked.
She could scarcely force herself
to answer, but managed to say "No," sharply.
Hurstwood pricked up his ears.
There was a note in her voice which vibrated keenly.
"It would be a good thing if
they did," he went on, half to himself, half to her, though he felt
that something was amiss in that quarter.
He withdrew his attention to his paper very circumspectly, listening
mentally for the little sounds which should show him what was on foot.
As a matter of fact, no man as
clever as Hurstwood--as observant and sensitive to atmospheres of many
sorts, particularly upon his own plane of thought--would have made the
mistake which he did in regard to his wife, wrought up as she was, had he
not been occupied mentally with a very different train of thought. Had not the influence of Carrie's regard for him, the elation
which her promise aroused in him, lasted over, he would not have seen the
house in so pleasant a mood. It
was not extraordinarily bright and merry this evening.
He was merely very much mistaken, and would have been much more
fitted to cope with it had he come home in his normal state.
After he had studied his paper a
few moments longer, he felt that he ought to modify matters in some way or
other. Evidently his wife was
not going to patch up peace at a word.
So he said:
"Where did George get the
dog he has there in the yard?"
"I don't know," she
He put his paper down on his
knees and gazed idly out of the window.
He did not propose to lose his temper, but merely to be persistent
and agreeable, and by a few questions bring around a mild understanding of
"Why do you feel so bad
about that affair of this morning? he said, at last. "We needn't
quarrel about that. You know
you can go to Waukesha if you want to."
"So you can stay here and
trifle around with some one else?" she exclaimed, turning to him a
determined countenance upon which was drawn a sharp and wrathful sneer.
He stopped as if slapped in the
face. In an instant his
persuasive, conciliatory manner fled. He
was on the defensive at a wink and puzzled for a word to reply.
"What do you mean?" he
said at last, straightening himself and gazing at the cold, determined
figure before him, who paid no attention, but went on arranging herself
before the mirror.
"You know what I mean,"
she said, finally, as if there were a world of information which she held in
reserve--which she did not need to tell.
"Well, I don't," he
said, stubbornly, yet nervous and alert for what should come next.
The finality of the woman's manner took away his feeling of
superiority in battle.
She made no answer.
"Hmph!" he murmured,
with a movement of his head to one side.
It was the weakest thing he had ever done.
It was totally unassured.
Mrs. Hurstwood noticed the lack
of colour in it. She turned
upon him, animal-like, able to strike an effectual second blow.
"I want the Waukesha money
to-morrow morning," she said.
He looked at her in amazement.
Never before had he seen such a cold, steely determination in her
eye--such a cruel look of indifference.
She seemed a thorough master of her mood-- thoroughly confident and
determined to wrest all control from him.
He felt that all his resources could not defend him.
He must attack.
"What do you mean?" he
said, jumping up. "You
want! I'd like to know what's got into you to-night."
"Nothing's GOT into
me," she said, flaming. "I
want that money. You can do your swaggering afterwards."
"Swaggering, eh! What!
You'll get nothing from me. What
do you mean by your insinuations, anyhow?"
"Where were you last
night?" she answered. The
words were hot as they came. "Who
were you driving with on Washington Boulevard? Who were you with at the
theatre when George saw you? Do you think I'm a fool to be duped by you? Do
you think I'll sit at home here and take your 'too busys' and 'can't come,'
while you parade around and make out that I'm unable to come? I want you to
know that lordly airs have come to an end so far as I am concerned.
You can't dictate to me nor my children.
I'm through with you entirely."
"It's a lie," he said,
driven to a corner and knowing no other excuse.
"Lie, eh!" she said,
fiercely, but with returning reserve; "you may call it a lie if you
want to, but I know."
"It's a lie, I tell
you," he said, in a low, sharp voice. "You've been searching
around for some cheap accusation for months and now you think you have it. You think you'll spring something and get the upper hand.
Well, I tell you, you can't. As long as I'm in this house I'm master
of it, and you or any one else won't dictate to me--do you hear?"
He crept toward her with a light
in his eye that was ominous. Something in the woman's cool, cynical, upper-handish
manner, as if she were already master, caused him to feel for the moment as
if he could strangle her.
She gazed at him--a pythoness in
"I'm not dictating to
you," she returned; "I'm telling you what I want."
The answer was so cool, so rich
in bravado, that somehow it took the wind out of his sails.
He could not attack her, he could not ask her for proofs.
Somehow he felt evidence, law, the remembrance of all his property
which she held in her name, to be shining in her glance.
He was like a vessel, powerful and dangerous, but rolling and
floundering without sail.
"And I'm telling you,"
he said in the end, slightly recovering himself, "what you'll not
"We'll see about it,"
she said. "I'll find out
what my rights are. Perhaps
you'll talk to a lawyer, if you won't to me."
It was a magnificent play, and
had its effect. Hurstwood fell
back beaten. He knew now that
he had more than mere bluff to contend with.
He felt that he was face to face with a dull proposition.
What to say he hardly knew. All
the merriment had gone out of the day.
He was disturbed, wretched, resentful. What should he do? "Do as
you please," he said, at last. "I'll
have nothing more to do with you," and out he strode.
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