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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
Ashes Of Tinder--The Loosing Of Stays
When Hurstwood got back to his
office again he was in a greater quandary than ever.
Lord, Lord, he thought, what had he got into? How could things have
taken such a violent turn, and so quickly? He could hardly realise how it
had all come about. It seemed
a monstrous, unnatural, unwarranted condition which had suddenly descended
upon him without his let or hindrance.
Meanwhile he gave a thought now
and then to Carrie. What
could be the trouble in that quarter? No letter had come, no word of any
kind, and yet here it was late in the evening and she had agreed to meet
him that morning. To-morrow
they were to have met and gone off--where? He saw that in the excitement
of recent events he had not formulated a plan upon that score.
He was desperately in love, and would have taken great chances to
win her under ordinary circumstances, but now--now what? Supposing she had
found out something? Supposing she, too, wrote him and told him that she
knew all--that she would have nothing more to do with him? It would be
just like this to happen as things were going now.
Meanwhile he had not sent the money.
He strolled up and down the
polished floor of the resort, his hands in his pockets, his brow wrinkled,
his mouth set. He was getting
some vague comfort out of a good cigar, but it was no panacea for the ill
which affected him. Every
once in a while he would clinch his fingers and tap his foot--signs of the
stirring mental process he was undergoing.
His whole nature was vigorously and powerfully shaken up, and he
was finding what limits the mind has to endurance.
He drank more brandy and soda than he had any evening in months.
He was altogether a fine example of great mental perturbation.
For all his study nothing came of
the evening except this--he sent the money.
It was with great opposition, after two or three hours of the most
urgent mental affirmation and denial, that at last he got an envelope,
placed in it the requested amount, and slowly sealed it up.
Then he called Harry, the boy of
all work around the place.
"You take this to this
address," he said, handing him the envelope, "and give it to Mrs.
"Yes, sir," said the
"If she isn't there bring it
"You've seen my wife?"
he asked as a precautionary measure as the boy turned to go.
"Oh, yes, sir.
I know her."
"All right, now.
Hurry right back."
"I guess not."
The boy hastened away and the
manager fell to his musings. Now
he had done it. There was no
use speculating over that. He
was beaten for to-night and he might just as well make the best of it.
But, oh, the wretchedness of being forced this way! He could see her
meeting the boy at the door and smiling sardonically. She would take the
envelope and know that she had triumphed.
If he only had that letter back he wouldn't send it.
He breathed heavily and wiped the moisture from his face.
For relief, he arose and joined
in conversation with a few friends who were drinking. He tried to get the interest of things about him, but it was
not to be. All the time his
thoughts would run out to his home and see the scene being therein enacted.
All the time he was wondering what she would say when the boy handed
her the envelope.
In about an hour and
three-quarters the boy returned. He
had evidently delivered the package, for, as he came up, he made no sign of
taking anything out of his pocket.
"Well?" said Hurstwood.
"I gave it to her."
"She said it was high
Hurstwood scowled fiercely.
There was no more to be done upon
that score that night. He went
on brooding over his situation until midnight, when he repaired again to the
Palmer House. He wondered what
the morning would bring forth, and slept anything but soundly upon it. Next
day he went again to the office and opened his mail, suspicious and hopeful
of its contents. No word from
Carrie. Nothing from his wife, which was pleasant.
The fact that he had sent the
money and that she had received it worked to the ease of his mind, for, as
the thought that he had done it receded, his chagrin at it grew less and his
hope of peace more. He fancied,
as he sat at his desk, that nothing would be done for a week or two. Meanwhile, he would have time to think.
This process of THINKING began by
a reversion to Carrie and the arrangement by which he was to get her away
from Drouet. How about that
now? His pain at her failure to meet or write him rapidly increased as he
devoted himself to this subject. He
decided to write her care of the West Side Post-office and ask for an
explanation, as well as to have her meet him.
The thought that this letter would probably not reach her until
Monday chafed him exceedingly. He
must get some speedier method--but how?
He thought upon it for a
half-hour, not contemplating a messenger or a cab direct to the house, owing
to the exposure of it, but finding that time was slipping away to no
purpose, he wrote the letter and then began to think again.
The hours slipped by, and with
them the possibility of the union he had contemplated.
He had thought to be joyously aiding Carrie by now in the task of
joining her interests to his, and here it was afternoon and nothing done.
Three o'clock came, four, five, six, and no letter.
The helpless manager paced the floor and grimly endured the gloom of
defeat. He saw a busy Saturday
ushered out, the Sabbath in, and nothing done.
All day, the bar being closed, he brooded alone, shut out from home,
from the excitement of his resort, from Carrie, and without the ability to
alter his condition one iota. It
was the worst Sunday he had spent in his life.
In Monday's second mail he
encountered a very legal-looking letter, which held his interest for some
time. It bore the imprint of
the law offices of McGregor, James and Hay, and with a very formal
"Dear Sir," and "We beg to state," went on to inform him
briefly that they had been retained by Mrs. Julia Hurstwood to adjust
certain matters which related to her sustenance and property rights, and
would he kindly call and see them about the matter at once.
He read it through carefully
several times, and then merely shook his head.
It seemed as if his family troubles were just beginning.
"Well!" he said after a
time, quite audibly, "I don't know."
Then he folded it up and put it
in his pocket.
To add to his misery there was no
word from Carrie. He was quite
certain now that she knew he was married and was angered at his perfidy.
His loss seemed all the more bitter now that he needed her most.
He thought he would go out and insist on seeing her if she did not
send him word of some sort soon. He
was really affected most miserably of all by this desertion.
He had loved her earnestly enough, but now that the possibility of
losing her stared him in the face she seemed much more attractive.
He really pined for a word, and looked out upon her with his mind's
eye in the most wistful manner. He
did not propose to lose her, whatever she might think.
Come what might, he would adjust this matter, and soon.
He would go to her and tell her all his family complications. He would explain to her just where he stood and how much he
needed her. Surely she couldn't
go back on him now? It wasn't possible.
He would plead until her anger would melt-- until she would forgive
Suddenly he thought:
"Supposing she isn't out there--suppose she has gone?"
He was forced to take his feet.
It was too much to think of and sit still.
Nevertheless, his rousing availed
On Tuesday it was the same way.
He did manage to bring himself into the mood to go out to Carrie, but
when he got in Ogden Place he thought he saw a man watching him and went
away. He did not go within a
block of the house.
One of the galling incidents of
this visit was that he came back on a Randolph Street car, and without
noticing arrived almost opposite the building of the concern with which his
son was connected. This sent a
pang through his heart. He had
called on his boy there several times.
Now the lad had not sent him a word.
His absence did not seem to be noticed by either of his children.
Well, well, fortune plays a man queer tricks. He got back to his office and joined in a conversation with
friends. It was as if idle
chatter deadened the sense of misery.
That night he dined at Rector's
and returned at once to his office. In
the bustle and show of the latter was his only relief. He troubled over many little details and talked perfunctorily
to everybody. He stayed at his
desk long after all others had gone, and only quitted it when the night
watchman on his round pulled at the front door to see if it was safely
On Wednesday he received another
polite note from McGregor, James and Hay.
"Dear Sir: We beg to inform you that we are instructed to
wait until to-morrow (Thursday) at one o'clock, before filing suit against
you, on behalf of Mrs. Julia Hurstwood, for divorce and alimony.
If we do not hear from you before that time we shall consider that
you do not wish to compromise the matter in any way and act accordingly.
"Very truly yours, etc."
"Compromise!" exclaimed Hurstwood bitterly.
Again he shook his head.
So here it was spread out clear
before him, and now he knew what to expect.
If he didn't go and see them they would sue him promptly.
If he did, he would be offered terms that would make his blood boil.
He folded the letter and put it with the other one.
Then he put on his hat and went for a turn about the block.
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