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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
The Feast Of Belshazzar--A Seer To Translate
Such feelings as were generated
in Carrie by this walk put her in an exceedingly receptive mood for the
pathos which followed in the play. The
actor whom they had gone to see had achieved his popularity by presenting
a mellow type of comedy, in which sufficient sorrow was introduced to lend
contrast and relief to humour. For Carrie, as we well know, the stage had
a great attraction. She had
never forgotten her one histrionic achievement in Chicago.
It dwelt in her mind and occupied her consciousness during many
long afternoons in which her rocking- chair and her latest novel
contributed the only pleasures of her state.
Never could she witness a play without having her own ability
vividly brought to consciousness. Some
scenes made her long to be a part of them--to give expression to the
feelings which she, in the place of the character represented, would feel.
Almost invariably she would carry the vivid imaginations away with her and
brood over them the next day alone. She
lived as much in these things as in the realities which made up her daily
It was not often that she came to
the play stirred to her heart's core by actualities.
To-day a low song of longing had been set singing in her heart by
the finery, the merriment, the beauty she had seen. Oh, these women who had passed her by, hundreds and hundreds
strong, who were they? Whence came the rich, elegant dresses, the
astonishingly coloured buttons, the knick-knacks of silver and gold? Where
were these lovely creatures housed? Amid what elegancies of carved
furniture, decorated walls, elaborate tapestries did they move? Where were
their rich apartments, loaded with all that money could provide? In what
stables champed these sleek, nervous horses and rested the gorgeous
carriages? Where lounged the richly groomed footmen? Oh, the mansions, the
lights, the perfume, the loaded boudoirs and tables! New York must be
filled with such bowers, or the beautiful, insolent, supercilious
creatures could not be. Some
hothouses held them. It ached her to know that she was not one of
them--that, alas, she had dreamed a dream and it had not come true.
She wondered at her own solitude these two years past--her
indifference to the fact that she had never achieved what she had
The play was one of those
drawing-room concoctions in which charmingly overdressed ladies and
gentlemen suffer the pangs of love and jealousy amid gilded surroundings. Such bon-mots are ever enticing to those who have all their
days longed for such material surroundings and have never had them
gratified. They have the
charm of showing suffering under ideal conditions.
Who would not grieve upon a gilded chair? Who would not suffer amid
perfumed tapestries, cushioned furniture, and liveried servants? Grief
under such circumstances becomes an enticing thing.
Carrie longed to be of it. She
wanted to take her sufferings, whatever they were, in such a world, or
failing that, at least to simulate them under such charming conditions
upon the stage. So affected
was her mind by what she had seen, that the play now seemed an
extraordinarily beautiful thing. She
was soon lost in the world it represented, and wished that she might never
return. Between the acts she studied the galaxy of matinee attendants
in front rows and boxes, and conceived a new idea of the possibilities of
New York. She was sure she
had not seen it all--that the city was one whirl of pleasure and delight.
Going out, the same Broadway
taught her a sharper lesson. The
scene she had witnessed coming down was now augmented and at its height.
Such a crush of finery and folly she had never seen.
It clinched her convictions concerning her state.
She had not lived, could not lay claim to having lived, until
something of this had come into her own life.
Women were spending money like water; she could see that in every
elegant shop she passed. Flowers, candy, jewelry, seemed the principal
things in which the elegant dames were interested.
And she--she had scarcely enough pin money to indulge in such outings
as this a few times a month.
That night the pretty little flat
seemed a commonplace thing. It
was not what the rest of the world was enjoying.
She saw the servant working at dinner with an indifferent eye.
In her mind were running scenes of the play.
Particularly she remembered one beautiful actress--the sweetheart who
had been wooed and won. The grace of this woman had won Carrie's heart.
Her dresses had been all that art could suggest, her sufferings had
been so real. The anguish which she had portrayed Carrie could feel.
It was done as she was sure she could do it.
There were places in which she could even do better.
Hence she repeated the lines to herself.
Oh, if she could only have such a part, how broad would be her life!
She, too, could act appealingly.
When Hurstwood came, Carrie was
moody. She was sitting, rocking
and thinking, and did not care to have her enticing imaginations broken in
upon; so she said little or nothing.
"What's the matter,
Carrie?" said Hurstwood after a time, noticing her quiet, almost moody
"Nothing," said Carrie.
"I don't feel very well tonight."
"Not sick, are you?" he
asked, approaching very close.
"Oh, no," she said,
almost pettishly, "I just don't feel very good."
"That's too bad," he
said, stepping away and adjusting his vest after his slight bending over.
"I was thinking we might go to a show to-night."
"I don't want to go,"
said Carrie, annoyed that her fine visions should have thus been broken into
and driven out of her mind. "I've been to the matinee this
"Oh, you have?" said
Hurstwood. "What was
"A Gold Mine."
"How was it?"
"Pretty good," said
"And you don't want to go
again to night?"
"I don't think I do,"
Nevertheless, wakened out of her
melancholia and called to the dinner table, she changed her mind.
A little food in the stomach does wonders.
She went again, and in so doing temporarily recovered her equanimity.
The great awakening blow had, however, been delivered.
As often as she might recover from these discontented thoughts now,
they would occur again. Time and repetition--ah, the wonder of it! The dropping water
and the solid stone--how utterly it yields at last!
Not long after this matinee
experience--perhaps a month--Mrs. Vance invited Carrie to an evening at the
theatre with them. She heard
Carrie say that Hurstwood was not coming home to dinner.
"Why don't you come with us?
Don't get dinner for yourself. We're going down to Sherry's for dinner and
then over to the Lyceum. Come
along with us."
"I think I will,"
She began to dress at three
o'clock for her departure at half- past five for the noted dining-room which
was then crowding Delmonico's for position in society.
In this dressing Carrie showed the influence of her association with
the dashing Mrs. Vance. She had
constantly had her attention called by the latter to novelties in everything
which pertains to a woman's apparel.
"Are you going to get such
and such a hat?" or, "Have you seen the new gloves with the oval
pearl buttons?" were but sample phrases out of a large selection.
"The next time you get a
pair of shoes, dearie," said Mrs. Vance, "get button, with thick
soles and patent-leather tips. They're
all the rage this fall."
"I will," said Carrie.
"Oh, dear, have you seen the
new shirtwaists at Altman's? They have some of the loveliest patterns.
I saw one there that I know would look stunning on you.
I said so when I saw it."
Carrie listened to these things
with considerable interest, for they were suggested with more of
friendliness than is usually common between pretty women.
Mrs. Vance liked Carrie's stable good-nature so well that she really
took pleasure in suggesting to her the latest things.
"Why don't you get yourself
one of those nice serge skirts they're selling at Lord & Taylor's?"
she said one day. "They're
the circular style, and they're going to be worn from now on. A dark blue one would look so nice on you."
Carrie listened with eager ears.
These things never came up between her and Hurstwood.
Nevertheless, she began to suggest one thing and another, which
Hurstwood agreed to without any expression of opinion.
He noticed the new tendency on Carrie's part, and finally, hearing
much of Mrs. Vance and her delightful ways, suspected whence the change
came. He was not inclined to
offer the slightest objection so soon, but he felt that Carrie's wants were
expanding. This did not appeal
to him exactly, but he cared for her in his own way, and so the thing stood.
Still, there was something in the details of the transactions which
caused Carrie to feel that her requests were not a delight to him.
He did not enthuse over the purchases.
This led her to believe that neglect was creeping in, and so another
small wedge was entered.
Nevertheless, one of the results
of Mrs. Vance's suggestions was the fact that on this occasion Carrie was
dressed somewhat to her own satisfaction.
She had on her best, but there was comfort in the thought that if she
must confine herself to a best, it was neat and fitting.
She looked the well-groomed woman of twenty- one, and Mrs. Vance
praised her, which brought colour to her plump cheeks and a noticeable
brightness into her large eyes. It
was threatening rain, and Mr. Vance, at his wife's request, had called a
coach. "Your husband isn't coming?" suggested Mr. Vance, as he met
Carrie in his little parlour.
"No; he said he wouldn't be
home for dinner."
"Better leave a little note
for him, telling him where we are. He might turn up."
"I will," said Carrie,
who had not thought of it before.
"Tell him we'll be at
Sherry's until eight o'clock. He
knows, though I guess."
Carrie crossed the hall with
rustling skirts, and scrawled the note, gloves on.
When she returned a newcomer was in the Vance flat.
"Mrs. Wheeler, let me
introduce Mr. Ames, a cousin of mine," said Mrs. Vance.
"He's going along with us, aren't you, Bob?"
"I'm very glad to meet
you," said Ames, bowing politely to Carrie.
The latter caught in a glance the
dimensions of a very stalwart figure. She
also noticed that he was smooth-shaven, good looking, and young, but nothing
"Mr. Ames is just down in
New York for a few days," put in Vance, "and we're trying to show
him around a little."
"Oh, are you?" said
Carrie, taking another glance at the newcomer.
"Yes; I am just on here from
Indianapolis for a week or so," said young Ames, seating himself on the
edge of a chair to wait while Mrs. Vance completed the last touches of her
"I guess you find New York
quite a thing to see, don't you?" said Carrie, venturing something to
avoid a possible deadly silence.
"It is rather large to get
around in a week," answered Ames, pleasantly.
He was an exceedingly genial
soul, this young man, and wholly free of affectation.
It seemed to Carrie he was as yet only overcoming the last traces of
the bashfulness of youth. He
did not seem apt at conversation, but he had the merit of being well dressed
and wholly courageous. Carrie
felt as if it were not going to be hard to talk to him.
"Well, I guess we're ready
now. The coach is
"Come on, people," said
Mrs. Vance, coming in smiling. "Bob,
you'll have to look after Mrs. Wheeler."
"I'll try to," said Bob
smiling, and edging closer to Carrie. "You won't need much watching,
will you?" he volunteered, in a sort of ingratiating and help-me-out
kind of way.
"Not very, I hope,"
They descended the stairs, Mrs.
Vance offering suggestions, and climbed into the open coach.
"All right," said
Vance, slamming the coach door, and the conveyance rolled away.
"What is it we're going to
see?" asked Ames.
"Sothern," said Vance,
"in 'Lord Chumley.'"
"Oh, he is so good!"
said Mrs. Vance. "He's
just the funniest man."
"I notice the papers praise
it," said Ames.
"I haven't any doubt,"
put in Vance, "but we'll all enjoy it very much."
Ames had taken a seat beside
Carrie, and accordingly he felt it his bounden duty to pay her some
attention. He was interested to
find her so young a wife, and so pretty, though it was only a respectful
interest. There was nothing of
the dashing lady's man about him. He
had respect for the married state, and thought only of some pretty
marriageable girls in Indianapolis.
"Are you a born New
Yorker?" asked Ames of Carrie.
"Oh, no; I've only been here
for two years."
"Oh, well, you've had time
to see a great deal of it, anyhow."
"I don't seem to have,"
answered Carrie. "It's
about as strange to me as when I first came here."
"You're not from the West,
"Yes. I'm from Wisconsin," she answered.
"Well, it does seem as if
most people in this town haven't been here so very long.
I hear of lots of Indiana people in my line who are here."
"What is your line?"
"I'm connected with an
electrical company," said the youth.
Carrie followed up this desultory
conversation with occasional interruptions from the Vances.
Several times it became general and partially humorous, and in that
manner the restaurant was reached.
Carrie had noticed the appearance
of gayety and pleasure-seeking in the streets which they were following.
Coaches were numerous, pedestrians many, and in Fifty-ninth Street
the street cars were crowded. At Fifty-ninth Street and Fifth Avenue a blaze of lights from
several new hotels which bordered the Plaza Square gave a suggestion of
sumptuous hotel life. Fifth
Avenue, the home of the wealthy, was noticeably crowded with carriages, and
gentlemen in evening dress. At
Sherry's an imposing doorman opened the coach door and helped them out. Young Ames held Carrie's elbow as he helped her up the steps.
They entered the lobby already swarming with patrons, and then, after
divesting themselves of their wraps, went into a sumptuous dining-room.
In all Carrie's experience she
had never seen anything like this. In the whole time she had been in New
York Hurstwood's modified state had not permitted his bringing her to such a
place. There was an almost
indescribable atmosphere about it which convinced the newcomer that this was
the proper thing. Here was the
place where the matter of expense limited the patrons to the moneyed or
pleasure-loving class. Carrie
had read of it often in the "Morning" and "Evening
World." She had seen notices of dances, parties, balls, and suppers at
Sherry's. The Misses So-and-so would give a party on Wednesday evening
at Sherry's. Young Mr.
So-and-So would entertain a party of friends at a private luncheon on the
sixteenth, at Sherry's. The
common run of conventional, perfunctory notices of the doings of society,
which she could scarcely refrain from scanning each day, had given her a
distinct idea of the gorgeousness and luxury of this wonderful temple of
gastronomy. Now, at last, she
was really in it. She had come
up the imposing steps, guarded by the large and portly doorman.
She had seen the lobby, guarded by another large and portly
gentleman, and been waited upon by uniformed youths who took care of canes,
overcoats, and the like. Here
was the splendid dining-chamber, all decorated and aglow, where the wealthy
ate. Ah, how fortunate was Mrs. Vance; young, beautiful, and well
off--at least, sufficiently so to come here in a coach. What a wonderful
thing it was to be rich.
Vance led the way through lanes
of shining tables, at which were seated parties of two, three, four, five,
or six. The air of assurance
and dignity about it all was exceedingly noticeable to the novitiate. Incandescent lights, the reflection of their glow in polished
glasses, and the shine of gilt upon the walls, combined into one tone of
light which it requires minutes of complacent observation to separate and
take particular note of. The white shirt fronts of the gentlemen, the bright
costumes of the ladies, diamonds, jewels, fine feathers--all were
Carrie walked with an air equal
to that of Mrs. Vance, and accepted the seat which the head waiter provided
for her. She was keenly aware
of all the little things that were done--the little genuflections and
attentions of the waiters and head waiter which Americans pay for.
The air with which the latter pulled out each chair, and the wave of
the hand with which he motioned them to be seated, were worth several
dollars in themselves.
Once seated, there began that
exhibition of showy, wasteful, and unwholesome gastronomy as practised by
wealthy Americans, which is the wonder and astonishment of true culture and
dignity the world over. The
large bill of fare held an array of dishes sufficient to feed an army,
sidelined with prices which made reasonable expenditure a ridiculous
impossibility--an order of soup at fifty cents or a dollar, with a dozen
kinds to choose from; oysters in forty styles and at sixty cents the
half-dozen; entrees, fish, and meats at prices which would house one over
night in an average hotel. One dollar fifty and two dollars seemed to be the most common
figures upon this most tastefully printed bill of fare.
Carrie noticed this, and in
scanning it the price of spring chicken carried her back to that other bill
of fare and far different occasion when, for the first time, she sat with
Drouet in a good restaurant in Chicago.
It was only momentary--a sad note as out of an old song--and then it
was gone. But in that flash was
seen the other Carrie--poor, hungry, drifting at her wits' ends, and all
Chicago a cold and closed world, from which she only wandered because she
could not find work.
On the walls were designs in
colour, square spots of robin's-egg blue, set in ornate frames of gilt,
whose corners were elaborate mouldings of fruit and flowers, with fat cupids
hovering in angelic comfort. On
the ceilings were coloured traceries with more gilt, leading to a centre
where spread a cluster of lights-- incandescent globes mingled with
glittering prisms and stucco tendrils of gilt.
The floor was of a reddish hue, waxed and polished, and in every
direction were mirrors--tall, brilliant, bevel-edged mirrors--reflecting and
re-reflecting forms, faces, and candelabra a score and a hundred times.
The tables were not so remarkable
in themselves, and yet the imprint of Sherry upon the napery, the name of
Tiffany upon the silverware, the name of Haviland upon the china, and over
all the glow of the small, red-shaded candelabra and the reflected tints of
the walls on garments and faces, made them seem remarkable. Each waiter
added an air of exclusiveness and elegance by the manner in which he bowed,
scraped, touched, and trifled with things.
The exclusively personal attention which he devoted to each one,
standing half bent, ear to one side, elbows akimbo, saying:
"Soup--green turtle, yes. One
portion, yes. Oysters--
It would be the same with each
one, only Vance essayed to order for all, inviting counsel and suggestions.
Carrie studied the company with open eyes.
So this was high life in New York.
It was so that the rich spent their days and evenings.
Her poor little mind could not rise above applying each scene to all
society. Every fine lady must
be in the crowd on Broadway in the afternoon, in the theatre at the matinee,
in the coaches and dining-halls at night.
It must be glow and shine everywhere, with coaches waiting, and
footmen attending, and she was out of it all.
In two long years she had never even been in such a place as this.
Vance was in his element here, as
Hurstwood would have been in former days.
He ordered freely of soup, oysters, roast meats, and side dishes, and
had several bottles of wine brought, which were set down beside the table in
a wicker basket.
Ames was looking away rather
abstractedly at the crowd and showed an interesting profile to Carrie.
His forehead was high, his nose rather large and strong, his chin
moderately pleasing. He had a
good, wide, well-shaped mouth, and his dark-brown hair was parted slightly
on one side. He seemed to have
the least touch of boyishness to Carrie, and yet he was a man full grown.
"Do you know," he said,
turning back to Carrie, after his reflection, "I sometimes think it is
a shame for people to spend so much money this way."
Carrie looked at him a moment
with the faintest touch of surprise at his seriousness.
He seemed to be thinking about something over which she had never
"Do you?" she answered,
"Yes," he said,
"they pay so much more than these things are worth.
They put on so much show."
"I don't know why people
shouldn't spend when they have it," said Mrs. Vance.
"It doesn't do any
harm," said Vance, who was still studying the bill of fare, though he
Ames was looking away again, and
Carrie was again looking at his forehead.
To her he seemed to be thinking about strange things. As he studied
the crowd his eye was mild.
"Look at that woman's dress
over there," he said, again turning to Carrie, and nodding in a
"Where?" said Carrie,
following his eyes.
"Over there in the
corner--way over. Do you see
"Isn't it large?" said
"One of the largest clusters
of jewels I have ever seen," said Ames.
"It is, isn't it?" said
Carrie. She felt as if she
would like to be agreeable to this young man, and also there came with it,
or perhaps preceded it, the slightest shade of a feeling that he was better
educated than she was--that his mind was better.
He seemed to look it, and the saving grace in Carrie was that she
could understand that people could be wiser.
She had seen a number of people in her life who reminded her of what
she had vaguely come to think of as scholars.
This strong young man beside her, with his clear, natural look,
seemed to get a hold of things which she did not quite understand, but
approved of. It was fine to be
so, as a man, she thought.
The conversation changed to a
book that was having its vogue at the time--"Moulding a Maiden,"
by Albert Ross. Mrs. Vance had
read it. Vance had seen it
discussed in some of the papers.
"A man can make quite a
strike writing a book," said Vance.
"I notice this fellow Ross is very much talked about." He
was looking at Carrie as he spoke.
"I hadn't heard of
him," said Carrie, honestly.
"Oh, I have," said Mrs.
Vance. "He's written lots
of things. This last story is pretty good."
"He doesn't amount to
much," said Ames.
Carrie turned her eyes toward him
as to an oracle.
"His stuff is nearly as bad
as 'Dora Thorne,'" concluded Ames.
Carrie felt this as a personal
reproof. She read "Dora
Thorne," or had a great deal in the past.
It seemed only fair to her, but she supposed that people thought it
very fine. Now this clear-
eyed, fine-headed youth, who looked something like a student to her, made
fun of it. It was poor to him,
not worth reading. She looked
down, and for the first time felt the pain of not understanding.
Yet there was nothing sarcastic
or supercilious in the way Ames spoke.
He had very little of that in him.
Carrie felt that it was just kindly thought of a high order--the
right thing to think, and wondered what else was right, according to him. He seemed to notice that she listened and rather sympathised
with him, and from now on he talked mostly to her.
As the waiter bowed and scraped
about, felt the dishes to see if they were hot enough, brought spoons and
forks, and did all those little attentive things calculated to impress the
luxury of the situation upon the diner, Ames also leaned slightly to one
side and told her of Indianapolis in an intelligent way.
He really had a very bright mind, which was finding its chief
development in electrical knowledge. His
sympathies for other forms of information, however, and for types of people,
were quick and warm. The red
glow on his head gave it a sandy tinge and put a bright glint in his eye. Carrie noticed all these things as he leaned toward her and
felt exceedingly young. This
man was far ahead of her. He
seemed wiser than Hurstwood, saner and brighter than Drouet.
He seemed innocent and clean, and she thought that he was exceedingly
pleasant. She noticed, also,
that his interest in her was a far-off one.
She was not in his life, nor any of the things that touched his life,
and yet now, as he spoke of these things, they appealed to her.
"I shouldn't care to be
rich," he told her, as the dinner proceeded and the supply of food
warmed up his sympathies; "not rich enough to spend my money this
"Oh, wouldn't you?"
said Carrie, the, to her, new attitude forcing itself distinctly upon her
for the first time.
"No," he said.
"What good would it do? A man doesn't need this sort of thing to
Carrie thought of this
doubtfully; but, coming from him, it had weight with her.
"He probably could be
happy," she thought to herself, "all alone. He's so strong."
Mr. and Mrs. Vance kept up a
running fire of interruptions, and these impressive things by Ames came at
odd moments. They were
sufficient, however, for the atmosphere that went with this youth impressed
itself upon Carrie without words. There
was something in him, or the world he moved in, which appealed to her.
He reminded her of scenes she had seen on the stage--the sorrows and
sacrifices that always went with she knew not what. He had taken away some of the bitterness of the contrast
between this life and her life, and all by a certain calm indifference which
concerned only him.
As they went out, he took her arm
and helped her into the coach, and then they were off again, and so to the
During the acts Carrie found
herself listening to him very attentively.
He mentioned things in the play which she most approved of--things
which swayed her deeply.
"Don't you think it rather
fine to be an actor?" she asked once.
"Yes, I do," he said,
"to be a good one. I think
the theatre a great thing."
Just this little approval set
Carrie's heart bounding. Ah, if
she could only be an actress--a good one! This man was wise--he knew--and he
approved of it. If she were a
fine actress, such men as he would approve of her.
She felt that he was good to speak as he had, although it did not
concern her at all. She did not
know why she felt this way.
At the close of the show it
suddenly developed that he was not going back with them.
"Oh, aren't you?" said
Carrie, with an unwarrantable feeling.
"Oh, no," he said;
"I'm stopping right around here in Thirty- third Street."
Carrie could not say anything
else, but somehow this development shocked her.
She had been regretting the wane of a pleasant evening, but she had
thought there was a half-hour more. Oh,
the half-hours, the minutes of the world; what miseries and griefs are
crowded into them!
She said good-bye with feigned
indifference. What matter could
it make? Still, the coach seemed lorn.
When she went into her own flat
she had this to think about. She
did not know whether she would ever see this man any more.
What difference could it make--what difference could it make?
Hurstwood had returned, and was
already in bed. His clothes
were scattered loosely about. Carrie
came to the door and saw him, then retreated.
She did not want to go in yet a while.
She wanted to think. It
was disagreeable to her.
Back in the dining-room she sat
in her chair and rocked. Her
little hands were folded tightly as she thought.
Through a fog of longing and conflicting desires she was beginning to
see. Oh, ye legions of hope and
pity--of sorrow and pain! She was rocking, and beginning to see.
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