|Table of Contents|
Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
A Grim Retrogression--The Phantom Of Chance
The Vances, who had been back in
the city ever since Christmas, had not forgotten Carrie; but they, or
rather Mrs. Vance, had never called on her, for the very simple reason
that Carrie had never sent her address.
True to her nature, she corresponded with Mrs. Vance as long as she
still lived in Seventy-eighth Street, but when she was compelled to move
into Thirteenth, her fear that the latter would take it as an indication
of reduced circumstances caused her to study some way of avoiding the
necessity of giving her address. Not
finding any convenient method, she sorrowfully resigned the privilege of
writing to her friend entirely. The
latter wondered at this strange silence, thought Carrie must have left the
city, and in the end gave her up as lost.
So she was thoroughly surprised to encounter her in Fourteenth
Street, where she had gone shopping.
Carrie was there for the same purpose.
"Why, Mrs. Wheeler,"
said Mrs. Vance, looking Carrie over in a glance, "where have you
been? Why haven't you been to see me? I've been wondering all this time
what had become of you. Really, I----"
"I'm so glad to see
you," said Carrie, pleased and yet nonplussed.
Of all times, this was the worst to encounter Mrs. Vance.
"Why, I'm living down town here.
I've been intending to come and see you.
Where are you living now?"
Street," said Mrs. Vance, "just off Seventh Avenue--218. Why don't you come and see me?"
"I will," said Carrie.
"Really, I've been wanting to come.
I know I ought to. It's
a shame. But you know----"
"What's your number?"
said Mrs. Vance.
said Carrie, reluctantly. "112
"Oh," said Mrs. Vance,
"that's right near here, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Carrie.
"You must come down and see me some time."
"Well, you're a fine
one," said Mrs. Vance, laughing, the while noting that Carrie's
appearance had modified somewhat. "The
address, too," she added to herself.
"They must be hard up."
Still she liked Carrie well
enough to take her in tow.
"Come with me in here a
minute," she exclaimed, turning into a store.
When Carrie returned home, there
was Hurstwood, reading as usual. He seemed to take his condition with the
utmost nonchalance. His beard
was at least four days old.
"Oh," thought Carrie,
"if she were to come here and see him?"
She shook her head in absolute
misery. It looked as if her
situation was becoming unbearable.
Driven to desperation, she asked
"Did you ever hear any more
from that wholesale house?"
"No," he said.
"They don't want an inexperienced man."
Carrie dropped the subject,
feeling unable to say more.
"I met Mrs. Vance this
afternoon," she said, after a time.
"Did, eh?" he answered.
"They're back in New York
now," Carrie went on. "She
did look so nice."
"Well, she can afford it as
long as he puts up for it," returned Hurstwood.
"He's got a soft job."
Hurstwood was looking into the
paper. He could not see the
look of infinite weariness and discontent Carrie gave him.
"She said she thought she'd
call here some day."
"She's been long getting
round to it, hasn't she?" said Hurstwood, with a kind of sarcasm.
The woman didn't appeal to him
from her spending side.
"Oh, I don't know,"
said Carrie, angered by the man's attitude. "Perhaps I didn't want her
"She's too gay," said
Hurstwood, significantly. "No
one can keep up with her pace unless they've got a lot of money."
"Mr. Vance doesn't seem to
find it very hard."
"He may not now,"
answered Hurstwood, doggedly, well understanding the inference; "but
his life isn't done yet. You
can't tell what'll happen. He
may get down like anybody else."
There was something quite knavish
in the man's attitude. His eye
seemed to be cocked with a twinkle upon the fortunate, expecting their
defeat. His own state seemed a
thing apart--not considered.
This thing was the remains of his
old-time cocksureness and independence.
Sitting in his flat, and reading of the doings of other people,
sometimes this independent, undefeated mood came upon him.
Forgetting the weariness of the streets and the degradation of
search, he would sometimes prick up his ears.
It was as if he said:
"I can do something.
I'm not down yet. There's a lot of things coming to me if I want to go after
It was in this mood that he would
occasionally dress up, go for a shave, and, putting on his gloves, sally
forth quite actively. Not with any definite aim.
It was more a barometric condition. He felt just right for being
outside and doing something.
On such occasions, his money went
also. He knew of several poker
rooms down town. A few
acquaintances he had in downtown resorts and about the City Hall.
It was a change to see them and exchange a few friendly commonplaces.
He had once been accustomed to
hold a pretty fair hand at poker. Many a friendly game had netted him a
hundred dollars or more at the time when that sum was merely sauce to the
dish of the game-- not the all in all.
Now, he thought of playing.
"I might win a couple of
hundred. I'm not out of
It is but fair to say that this
thought had occurred to him several times before he acted upon it. The poker
room which he first invaded was over a saloon in West Street, near one of
the ferries. He had been there
before. Several games were going. These
he watched for a time and noticed that the pots were quite large for the
"Deal me a hand," he
said at the beginning of a new shuffle.
He pulled up a chair and studied his cards.
Those playing made that quiet study of him which is so unapparent,
and yet invariably so searching.
Poor fortune was with him at
first. He received a mixed
collection without progression or pairs.
The pot was opened.
"I pass," he said.
On the strength of this, he was
content to lose his ante. The
deals did fairly by him in the long run, causing him to come away with a few
dollars to the good.
The next afternoon he was back
again, seeking amusement and profit. This
time he followed up three of a kind to his doom. There was a better hand
across the table, held by a pugnacious Irish youth, who was a political
hanger-on of the Tammany district in which they were located.
Hurstwood was surprised at the persistence of this individual, whose
bets came with a sang- froid which, if a bluff, was excellent art.
Hurstwood began to doubt, but kept, or thought to keep, at least, the
cool demeanour with which, in olden times, he deceived those psychic
students of the gaming table, who seem to read thoughts and moods, rather
than exterior evidences, however subtle.
He could not down the cowardly thought that this man had something
better and would stay to the end, drawing his last dollar into the pot,
should he choose to go so far. Still, he hoped to win much--his hand was excellent.
Why not raise it five more?
"I raise you three,"
said the youth.
"Make it five," said
Hurstwood, pushing out his chips.
"Come again," said the
youth, pushing out a small pile of reds.
"Let me have some more
chips," said Hurstwood to the keeper in charge, taking out a bill.
A cynical grin lit up the face of
his youthful opponent. When the
chips were laid out, Hurstwood met the raise.
"Five again," said the
Hurstwood's brow was wet.
He was deep in now--very deep for him. Sixty dollars of his good
money was up. He was ordinarily
no coward, but the thought of losing so much weakened him.
Finally he gave way. He
would not trust to this fine hand any longer.
"I call," he said.
"A full house!" said
the youth, spreading out his cards.
Hurstwood's hand dropped.
"I thought I had you,"
he said, weakly.
The youth raked in his chips, and
Hurstwood came away, not without first stopping to count his remaining cash
on the stair.
"Three hundred and forty
dollars," he said.
With this loss and ordinary
expenses, so much had already gone.
Back in the flat, he decided he
would play no more.
Remembering Mrs. Vance's promise
to call, Carrie made one other mild protest.
It was concerning Hurstwood's appearance.
This very day, coming home, he changed his clothes to the old togs he
sat around in.
"What makes you always put
on those old clothes?" asked Carrie.
"What's the use wearing my
good ones around here?" he asked.
"Well, I should think you'd
feel better." Then she added: "Some one might call."
"Who?" he said.
"Well, Mrs. Vance,"
"She needn't see me,"
he answered, sullenly.
This lack of pride and interest
made Carrie almost hate him.
"Oh," she thought,
"there he sits. 'She
needn't see me.' I should think he would be ashamed of himself."
The real bitterness of this thing
was added when Mrs. Vance did call. It
was on one of her shopping rounds. Making
her way up the commonplace hall, she knocked at Carrie's door.
To her subsequent and agonising distress, Carrie was out.
Hurstwood opened the door, half-thinking that the knock was Carrie's. For once, he was taken honestly aback. The lost voice of youth and pride spoke in him.
"Why," he said,
actually stammering, "how do you do?"
"How do you do?" said
Mrs. Vance, who could scarcely believe her eyes.
His great confusion she instantly perceived. He did not know whether to invite her in or not.
"Is your wife at home?"
"No," he said,
"Carrie's out; but won't you step in? She'll be back shortly."
"No-o," said Mrs.
Vance, realising the change of it all.
"I'm really very much in a hurry.
I thought I'd just run up and look in, but I couldn't stay.
Just tell your wife she must come and see me."
"I will," said
Hurstwood, standing back, and feeling intense relief at her going.
He was so ashamed that he folded his hands weakly, as he sat in the
chair afterwards, and thought.
Carrie, coming in from another
direction, thought she saw Mrs. Vance going away.
She strained her eyes, but could not make sure.
"Was anybody here just
now?" she asked of Hurstwood.
"Yes," he said
guiltily; "Mrs. Vance."
"Did she see you?" she
asked, expressing her full despair. This cut Hurstwood like a whip, and made
"If she had eyes, she did.
I opened the door."
"Oh," said Carrie,
closing one hand tightly out of sheer nervousness.
"What did she have to say?"
"Nothing," he answered.
"She couldn't stay."
"And you looking like
that!" said Carrie, throwing aside a long reserve.
"What of it?" he said,
angering. "I didn't know
she was coming, did I?"
"You knew she might,"
said Carrie. "I told you
she said she was coming. I've
asked you a dozen times to wear your other clothes. Oh, I think this is just
"Oh, let up," he
answered. "What difference
does it make? You couldn't associate with her, anyway.
They've got too much money.
"Who said I wanted to?"
said Carrie, fiercely.
"Well, you act like it,
rowing around over my looks. You'd
think I'd committed----"
"It's true," she said.
"I couldn't if I wanted to, but whose fault is it? You're very
free to sit and talk about who I could associate with.
Why don't you get out and look for work?"
This was a thunderbolt in camp.
"What's it to you?" he
said, rising, almost fiercely. "I
pay the rent, don't I? I furnish the----"
"Yes, you pay the
rent," said Carrie. "You
talk as if there was nothing else in the world but a flat to sit around in.
You haven't done a thing for three months except sit around and
interfere here. I'd like to
know what you married me for?"
"I didn't marry you,"
he said, in a snarling tone.
"I'd like to know what you
did, then, in Montreal?" she answered.
"Well, I didn't marry
you," he answered. "You
can get that out of your head. You
talk as though you didn't know."
Carrie looked at him a moment,
her eyes distending. She had
believed it was all legal and binding enough.
"What did you lie to me for,
then?" she asked, fiercely. "What
did you force me to run away with you for?"
Her voice became almost a sob.
"Force!" he said, with
curled lip. "A lot of
forcing I did."
"Oh!" said Carrie,
breaking under the strain, and turning.
"Oh, oh!" and she hurried into the front room.
Hurstwood was now hot and waked
up. It was a great shaking up
for him, both mental and moral. He
wiped his brow as he looked around, and then went for his clothes and
dressed. Not a sound came from
Carrie; she ceased sobbing when she heard him dressing. She thought, at
first, with the faintest alarm, of being left without money--not of losing
him, though he might be going away permanently.
She heard him open the top of the wardrobe and take out his hat.
Then the dining-room door closed, and she knew he had gone.
After a few moments of silence,
she stood up, dry-eyed, and looked out the window.
Hurstwood was just strolling up the street, from the flat, toward
The latter made progress along
Thirteenth and across Fourteenth Street to Union Square.
"Look for work!" he
said to himself. "Look for
work! She tells me to get out and look for work."
He tried to shield himself from
his own mental accusation, which told him that she was right.
"What a cursed thing that
Mrs. Vance's call was, anyhow," he thought.
"Stood right there, and looked me over. I know what she was thinking."
He remembered the few times he
had seen her in Seventy-eight Street. She
was always a swell-looker, and he had tried to put on the air of being
worthy of such as she, in front of her.
Now, to think she had caught him looking this way.
He wrinkled his forehead in his distress.
"The devil!" he said a
dozen times in an hour.
It was a quarter after four when
he left the house. Carrie was
in tears. There would be no
dinner that night.
"What the deuce," he
said, swaggering mentally to hide his own shame from himself.
"I'm not so bad. I'm
not down yet."
He looked around the square, and
seeing the several large hotels, decided to go to one for dinner.
He would get his papers and make himself comfortable there.
He ascended into the fine parlour
of the Morton House, then one of the best New York hotels, and, finding a
cushioned seat, read. It did not trouble him much that his decreasing sum of
money did not allow of such extravagance.
Like the morphine fiend, he was becoming addicted to his ease.
Anything to relieve his mental distress, to satisfy his craving for
comfort. He must do it.
No thoughts for the morrow--he could not stand to think of it any
more than he could of any other calamity.
Like the certainty of death, he tried to shut the certainty of soon
being without a dollar completely out of his mind, and he came very near
Well-dressed guests moving to and
fro over the thick carpets carried him back to the old days. A young lady, a guest of the house, playing a piano in an
alcove pleased him. He sat
His dinner cost him $1.50.
By eight o'clock he was through, and then, seeing guests leaving and
the crowd of pleasure-seekers thickening outside wondered where he should
go. Not home. Carrie would be
up. No, he would not go back
there this evening. He would stay out and knock around as a man who was
independent-- not broke--well might. He
bought a cigar, and went outside on the corner where other individuals were
lounging--brokers, racing people, thespians--his own flesh and blood.
As he stood there, he thought of the old evenings in Chicago, and how
he used to dispose of them. Many's
the game he had had. This took
him to poker.
"I didn't do that thing
right the other day," he thought, referring to his loss of sixty
dollars. "I shouldn't have
weakened. I could have bluffed
that fellow down. I wasn't in
form, that's what ailed me."
Then he studied the possibilities
of the game as it had been played, and began to figure how he might have
won, in several instances, by bluffing a little harder.
"I'm old enough to play
poker and do something with it. I'll
try my hand to-night."
Visions of a big stake floated
before him. Supposing he did
win a couple of hundred, wouldn't he be in it? Lots of sports he knew made
their living at this game, and a good living, too.
"They always had as much as
I had," he thought.
So off he went to a poker room in
the neighbourhood, feeling much as he had in the old days.
In this period of self-forgetfulness, aroused first by the shock of
argument and perfected by a dinner in the hotel, with cocktails and cigars,
he was as nearly like the old Hurstwood as he would ever be again.
It was not the old Hurstwood--only a man arguing with a divided
conscience and lured by a phantom.
This poker room was much like the
other one, only it was a back room in a better drinking resort.
Hurstwood watched a while, and then, seeing an interesting game,
joined in. As before, it went
easy for a while, he winning a few times and cheering up, losing a few pots
and growing more interested and determined on that account.
At last the fascinating game took a strong hold on him. He enjoyed
its risks and ventured, on a trifling hand, to bluff the company and secure
a fair stake. To his self-satisfaction intense and strong, he did it.
In the height of this feeling he
began to think his luck was with him. No
one else had done so well. Now
came another moderate hand, and again he tried to open the jack-pot on it.
There were others there who were almost reading his heart, so close
was their observation.
"I have three of a
kind," said one of the players to himself. "I'll just stay with
that fellow to the finish."
The result was that bidding
"I raise you ten."
"Right you are."
It got to where Hurstwood had
seventy-five dollars up. The
other man really became serious. Perhaps
this individual (Hurstwood) really did have a stiff hand.
"I call," he said.
Hurstwood showed his hand.
He was done. The bitter fact that he had lost seventy-five dollars made
"Let's have another
pot," he said, grimly.
"All right," said the
Some of the other players quit,
but observant loungers took their places.
Time passed, and it came to twelve o'clock. Hurstwood held on, neither winning nor losing much.
Then he grew weary, and on a last hand lost twenty more.
He was sick at heart.
At a quarter after one in the
morning he came out of the place. The chill, bare streets seemed a mockery
of his state. He walked slowly
west, little thinking of his row with Carrie.
He ascended the stairs and went into his room as if there had been no
trouble. It was his loss that
occupied his mind. Sitting down
on the bedside he counted his money. There
was now but a hundred and ninety dollars and some change.
He put it up and began to undress.
"I wonder what's getting
into me, anyhow?" he said.
In the morning Carrie scarcely
spoke and he felt as if he must go out again.
He had treated her badly, but he could not afford to make up.
Now desperation seized him, and for a day or two, going out thus, he
lived like a gentleman--or what he conceived to be a gentleman--which took
money. For his escapades he was
soon poorer in mind and body, to say nothing of his purse, which had lost
thirty by the process. Then he
came down to cold, bitter sense again.
"The rent man comes
to-day," said Carrie, greeting him thus indifferently three mornings
"Yes; this is the
second," answered Carrie.
Then in despair he got out his purse.
"It seems an awful lot to
pay for rent," he said.
He was nearing his last hundred
|Table of Contents|