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Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
The Grind Of The Millstones--A Sample Of Chaff
Carrie pondered over this
situation as consistently as Hurstwood, once she got the facts adjusted in
her mind. It took several
days for her to fully realise that the approach of the dissolution of her
husband's business meant commonplace struggle and privation.
Her mind went back to her early venture in Chicago, the Hansons and
their flat, and her heart revolted. That was terrible! Everything about
poverty was terrible. She
wished she knew a way out. Her
recent experiences with the Vances had wholly unfitted her to view her own
state with complacence. The
glamour of the high life of the city had, in the few experiences afforded
her by the former, seized her completely.
She had been taught how to dress and where to go without having
ample means to do either. Now,
these things-- ever-present realities as they were--filled her eyes and
mind. The more circumscribed became her state, the more entrancing seemed
this other. And now poverty
threatened to seize her entirely and to remove this other world far upward
like a heaven to which any Lazarus might extend, appealingly, his hands.
So, too, the ideal brought into
her life by Ames remained. He
had gone, but here was his word that riches were not everything; that
there was a great deal more in the world than she knew; that the stage was
good, and the literature she read poor.
He was a strong man and clean--how much stronger and better than
Hurstwood and Drouet she only half formulated to herself, but the
difference was painful. It
was something to which she voluntarily closed her eyes.
During the last three months of
the Warren Street connection, Hurstwood took parts of days off and hunted,
tracking the business advertisements.
It was a more or less depressing business, wholly because of the
thought that he must soon get something or he would begin to live on the
few hundred dollars he was saving, and then he would have nothing to
invest--he would have to hire out as a clerk.
Everything he discovered in his
line advertised as an opportunity, was either too expensive or too
wretched for him. Besides, winter was coming, the papers were announcing
hardships, and there was a general feeling of hard times in the air, or,
at least, he thought so. In
his worry, other people's worries became apparent.
No item about a firm failing, a family starving, or a man dying
upon the streets, supposedly of starvation, but arrested his eye as he
scanned the morning papers. Once
the "World" came out with a flaring announcement about
"80,000 people out of employment in New York this winter," which
struck as a knife at his heart.
"Eighty thousand!" he
thought. "What an awful
thing that is."
This was new reasoning for
Hurstwood. In the old days the
world had seemed to be getting along well enough.
He had been wont to see similar things in the "Daily News,"
in Chicago, but they did not hold his attention.
Now, these things were like grey clouds hovering along the horizon of
a clear day. They threatened to
cover and obscure his life with chilly greyness.
He tried to shake them off, to forget and brace up.
Sometimes he said to himself, mentally:
"What's the use worrying?
I'm not out yet. I've got six
weeks more. Even if worst comes
to worst, I've got enough to live on for six months."
"What's the use worrying?
I'm not out yet. I've got six
weeks more. Even if worst comes
to worst, I've got enough to live on for six months."
Curiously, as he troubled over
his future, his thoughts occasionally reverted to his wife and family.
He had avoided such thoughts for the first three years as much as
possible. He hated her, and he
could get along without her. Let
her go. He would do well
enough. Now, however, when he
was not doing well enough, he began to wonder what she was doing, how his
children were getting along. He
could see them living as nicely as ever, occupying the comfortable house and
using his property.
"By George! it's a shame
they should have it all," he vaguely thought to himself on several
occasions. "I didn't do
As he looked back now and
analysed the situation which led up to his taking the money, he began mildly
to justify himself. What had he
done--what in the world--that should bar him out this way and heap such
difficulties upon him? It seemed only yesterday to him since he was
comfortable and well-to-do. But
now it was all wrested from him.
"She didn't deserve what she
got out of me, that is sure. I
didn't do so much, if everybody could just know."
There was no thought that the
facts ought to be advertised. It
was only a mental justification he was seeking from himself-- something that
would enable him to bear his state as a righteous man.
One afternoon, five weeks before
the Warren Street place closed up, he left the saloon to visit three or four
places he saw advertised in the "Herald." One was down in Gold
Street, and he visited that, but did not enter.
It was such a cheap looking place he felt that he could not abide it.
Another was on the Bowery, which he knew contained many showy
resorts. It was near Grand
Street, and turned out to be very handsomely fitted up.
He talked around about investments for fully three-quarters of an
hour with the proprietor, who maintained that his health was poor, and that
was the reason he wished a partner.
"Well, now, just how much
money would it take to buy a half interest here?" said Hurstwood, who
saw seven hundred dollars as his limit.
"Three thousand," said
Hurstwood's jaw fell.
"Cash?" he said.
He tried to put on an air of
deliberation, as one who might really buy; but his eyes showed gloom.
He wound up by saying he would think it over, and came away.
The man he had been talking to sensed his condition in a vague way.
"I don't think he wants to
buy," he said to himself. "He
doesn't talk right."
The afternoon was as grey as lead
and cold. It was blowing up a
disagreeable winter wind. He
visited a place far up on the east side, near Sixty-ninth Street, and it was
five o'clock, and growing dim, when he reached there.
A portly German kept this place.
"How about this ad of
yours?" asked Hurstwood, who rather objected to the looks of the place.
"Oh, dat iss all over,"
said the German. "I vill
not sell now."
"Oh, is that so?"
"Yes; dere is nothing to dat.
It iss all over."
"Very well," said
Hurstwood, turning around.
The German paid no more attention
to him, and it made him angry.
"The crazy ass!" he
said to himself. "What
does he want to advertise for?"
Wholly depressed, he started for
Thirteenth Street. The flat had
only a light in the kitchen, where Carrie was working. He struck a match and, lighting the gas, sat down in the
dining-room without even greeting her.
She came to the door and looked in.
"It's you, is it?" she
said, and went back.
"Yes," he said, without
even looking up from the evening paper he had bought.
Carrie saw things were wrong with
him. He was not so handsome
when gloomy. The lines at the
sides of the eyes were deepened. Naturally dark of skin, gloom made him look
slightly sinister. He was quite a disagreeable figure.
Carrie set the table and brought
in the meal.
"Dinner's ready," she
said, passing him for something.
He did not answer, reading on.
She came in and sat down at her
place, feeling exceedingly wretched.
"Won't you eat now?"
He folded his paper and drew
near, silence holding for a time, except for the "Pass me's."
"It's been gloomy to-day,
hasn't it?" ventured Carrie, after a time.
"Yes," he said.
He only picked at his food.
"Are you still sure to close
up?" said Carrie, venturing to take up the subject which they had
discussed often enough.
"Of course we are," he
said, with the slightest modification of sharpness.
This retort angered Carrie.
She had had a dreary day of it herself.
"You needn't talk like
that," she said.
"Oh!" he exclaimed,
pushing back from the table, as if to say more, but letting it go at that.
Then he picked up his paper. Carrie left her seat, containing herself
with difficulty. He saw she was
"Don't go 'way," he
said, as she started back into the kitchen. "Eat your dinner."
She passed, not answering.
He looked at the paper a few
moments, and then rose up and put on his coat.
"I'm going downtown,
Carrie," he said, coming out. "I'm
out of sorts to-night."
She did not answer.
"Don't be angry," he
said. "It will be all
right to morrow."
He looked at her, but she paid no
attention to him, working at her dishes.
"Good-bye!" he said
finally, and went out.
This was the first strong result
of the situation between them, but with the nearing of the last day of the
business the gloom became almost a permanent thing.
Hurstwood could not conceal his feelings about the matter.
Carrie could not help wondering where she was drifting.
It got so that they talked even less than usual, and yet it was not
Hurstwood who felt any objection to Carrie.
It was Carrie who shied away from him.
This he noticed. It aroused an objection to her becoming indifferent
to him. He made the possibility
of friendly intercourse almost a giant task, and then noticed with
discontent that Carrie added to it by her manner and made it more
At last the final day came.
When it actually arrived, Hurstwood, who had got his mind into such a
state where a thunderclap and raging storm would have seemed highly
appropriate, was rather relieved to find that it was a plain, ordinary day.
The sun shone, the temperature was pleasant.
He felt, as he came to the breakfast table, that it wasn't so
terrible, after all.
"Well," he said to
Carrie, "to-day's my last day on earth."
Carrie smiled in answer to his
Hurstwood glanced over his paper
rather gayly. He seemed to have
lost a load.
"I'll go down for a little
while," he said after breakfast, "and then I'll look around.
To-morrow I'll spend the whole day looking about.
I think I can get something, now this thing's off my hands."
He went out smiling and visited
the place. Shaughnessy was
there. They had made all
arrangements to share according to their interests.
When, however, he had been there several hours, gone out three more,
and returned, his elation had departed.
As much as he had objected to the place, now that it was no longer to
exist, he felt sorry. He wished
that things were different.
Shaughnessy was coolly
"Well," he said at five
o'clock, "we might as well count the change and divide."
They did so. The fixtures had already been sold and the sum divided.
Hurstwood at the final moment, in a last effort to be genial.
"So long," said
Shaughnessy, scarcely deigning a notice.
Thus the Warren Street
arrangement was permanently concluded.
Carrie had prepared a good dinner
at the flat, but after his ride up, Hurstwood was in a solemn and reflective
"Well?" said Carrie,
"I'm out of that," he
answered, taking off his coat.
As she looked at him, she
wondered what his financial state was now.
They ate and talked a little.
"Will you have enough to buy
in anywhere else?" asked Carrie.
"No," he said.
"I'll have to get something else and save up."
"It would be nice if you
could get some place," said Carrie, prompted by anxiety and hope.
"I guess I will," he
For some days thereafter he put
on his overcoat regularly in the morning and sallied forth. On these ventures he first consoled himself with the thought
that with the seven hundred dollars he had he could still make some
advantageous arrangement. He
thought about going to some brewery, which, as he knew, frequently
controlled saloons which they leased, and get them to help him.
Then he remembered that he would have to pay out several hundred any
way for fixtures and that he would have nothing left for his monthly
expenses. It was costing him
nearly eighty dollars a month to live.
"No," he said, in his
sanest moments, "I can't do it. I'll
get something else and save up."
proposition complicated itself the moment he began to think of what it was
he wanted to do. Manage a
place? Where should he get such a position? The papers contained no requests
for managers. Such positions,
he knew well enough, were either secured by long years of service or were
bought with a half or third interest. Into
a place important enough to need such a manager he had not money enough to
Nevertheless, he started out.
His clothes were very good and his appearance still excellent, but it
involved the trouble of deluding. People,
looking at him, imagined instantly that a man of his age, stout and well
dressed, must be well off. He
appeared a comfortable owner of something, a man from whom the common run of
mortals could well expect gratuities. Being
now forty-three years of age, and comfortably built, walking was not easy.
He had not been used to exercise for many years.
His legs tired, his shoulders ached, and his feet pained him at the
close of the day, even when he took street cars in almost every direction.
The mere getting up and down, if long continued, produced this
The fact that people took him to
be better off than he was, he well understood.
It was so painfully clear to him that it retarded his search.
Not that he wished to be less well- appearing, but that he was
ashamed to belie his appearance by incongruous appeals.
So he hesitated, wondering what to do.
He thought of the hotels, but
instantly he remembered that he had had no experience as a clerk, and, what
was more important, no acquaintances or friends in that line to whom he
could go. He did know some
hotel owners in several cities, including New York, but they knew of his
dealings with Fitzgerald and Moy. He
could not apply to them. He
thought of other lines suggested by large buildings or businesses which he
knew of--wholesale groceries, hardware, insurance concerns, and the
like--but he had had no experience.
How to go about getting anything
was a bitter thought. Would he
have to go personally and ask; wait outside an office door, and, then,
distinguished and affluent looking, announce that he was looking for
something to do? He strained painfully at the thought.
No, he could not do that.
He really strolled about,
thinking, and then, the weather being cold, stepped into a hotel. He knew hotels well enough to know that any decent individual
was welcome to a chair in the lobby. This was in the Broadway Central, which
was then one of the most important hotels in the city. Taking a chair here was a painful thing to him.
To think he should come to this! He had heard loungers about hotels
called chairwarmers. He had called them that himself in his day.
But here he was, despite the possibility of meeting some one who knew
him, shielding himself from cold and the weariness of the streets in a hotel
"I can't do this way,"
he said to himself. "There's
no use of my starting out mornings without first thinking up some place to
go. I'll think of some places and then look them up."
It occurred to him that the
positions of bartenders were sometimes open, but he put this out of his
mind. Bartender--he, the
It grew awfully dull sitting in
the hotel lobby, and so at four he went home.
He tried to put on a business air as he went in, but it was a feeble
imitation. The rocking chair in
the dining- room was comfortable. He
sank into it gladly, with several papers he had bought, and began to read.
As she was going through the room
to begin preparing dinner, Carrie said:
"The man was here for the
"Oh, was he?" said
The least wrinkle crept into his
brow as he remembered that this was February 2d, the time the man always
called. He fished down in his
pocket for his purse, getting the first taste of paying out when nothing is
coming in. He looked at the
fat, green roll as a sick man looks at the one possible saving cure.
Then he counted off twenty-eight dollars.
"Here you are," he said
to Carrie, when she came through again.
He buried himself in his papers
and read. Oh, the rest of it--
the relief from walking and thinking! What Lethean waters were these floods
of telegraphed intelligence! He forgot his troubles, in part.
Here was a young, handsome woman, if you might believe the newspaper
drawing, suing a rich, fat, candy-making husband in Brooklyn for divorce.
Here was another item detailing the wrecking of a vessel in ice and
snow off Prince's Bay on Staten Island.
A long, bright column told of the doings in the theatrical world--the
plays produced, the actors appearing, the managers making announcements.
Fannie Davenport was just opening at the Fifth Avenue.
Daly was producing "King Lear." He read of the early
departure for the season of a party composed of the Vanderbilts and their
friends for Florida. An
interesting shooting affray was on in the mountains of Kentucky.
So he read, read, read, rocking in the warm room near the radiator
and waiting for dinner to be served.
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