Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XIV

With Eyes and Not Seeing — One Influence Wanes

Carrie in her rooms that evening was in a fine glow, physically and mentally. She was deeply rejoicing in her affection for Hurstwood and his love, and looked forward with fine fancy to their next meeting Sunday night. They had agreed, without any feeling of enforced secrecy, that she should come down town and meet him, though, after all, the need of it was the cause.

Mrs. Hale, from her upper window, saw her come in.

“Um,” she thought to herself, “she goes riding with another man when her husband is out of the city. He had better keep an eye on her.”

The truth is that Mrs. Hale was not the only one who had a thought on this score. The housemaid who had welcomed Hurstwood had her opinion also. She had no particular regard for Carrie, whom she took to be cold and disagreeable. At the same time, she had a fancy for the merry and easy-mannered Drouet, who threw her a pleasant remark now and then, and in other ways extended her the evidence of that regard which he had for all members of the sex. Hurstwood was more reserved and critical in his manner. He did not appeal to this bodiced functionary in the same pleasant way. She wondered that he came so frequently, that Mrs. Drouet should go out with him this afternoon when Mr. Drouet was absent. She gave vent to her opinions in the kitchen where the cook was. As a result, a hum of gossip was set going which moved about the house in that secret manner common to gossip.

Carrie, now that she had yielded sufficiently to Hurstwood to confess her affection, no longer troubled about her attitude towards him. Temporarily she gave little thought to Drouet, thinking only of the dignity and grace of her lover and of his consuming affection for her. On the first evening, she did little but go over the details of the afternoon. It was the first time her sympathies had ever been thoroughly aroused, and they threw a new light on her character. She had some power of initiative, latent before, which now began to exert itself. She looked more practically upon her state and began to see glimmerings of a way out. Hurstwood seemed a drag in the direction of honour. Her feelings were exceedingly creditable, in that they constructed out of these recent developments something which conquered freedom from dishonour. She had no idea what Hurstwood’s next word would be. She only took his affection to be a fine thing, and appended better, more generous results accordingly.

As yet, Hurstwood had only a thought of pleasure without responsibility. He did not feel that he was doing anything to complicate his life. His position was secure, his home-life, if not satisfactory, was at least undisturbed, his personal liberty rather untrammelled. Carrie’s love represented only so much added pleasure. He would enjoy this new gift over and above his ordinary allowance of pleasure. He would be happy with her and his own affairs would go on as they had, undisturbed.

On Sunday evening Carrie dined with him at a place he had selected in East Adams Street, and thereafter they took a cab to what was then a pleasant evening resort out on Cottage Grove Avenue near 39th Street. In the process of his declaration he soon realised that Carrie took his love upon a higher basis than he had anticipated. She kept him at a distance in a rather earnest way, and submitted only to those tender tokens of affection which better become the inexperienced lover. Hurstwood saw that she was not to be possessed for the asking, and deferred pressing his suit too warmly.

Since he feigned to believe in her married state he found that he had to carry out the part. His triumph, he saw, was still at a little distance. How far he could not guess.

They were returning to Ogden Place in the cab, when he asked:

“When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, wondering herself.

“Why not come down to The Fair,” he suggested, “next Tuesday?”

She shook her head.

“Not so soon,” she answered.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he added. “I’ll write you, care of this West Side Post-office. Could you call next Tuesday?”

Carrie assented.

The cab stopped one door out of the way according to his call.

“Good-night,” he whispered, as the cab rolled away.

Unfortunately for the smooth progression of this affair, Drouet returned. Hurstwood was sitting in his imposing little office the next afternoon when he saw Drouet enter.

“Why, hello, Charles,” he called affably; “back again?”

“Yes,” smiled Drouet, approaching and looking in at the door.

Hurstwood arose.

“Well,” he said, looking the drummer over, “rosy as ever, eh?”

They began talking of the people they knew and things that had happened.

“Been home yet?” finally asked Hurstwood.

“No, I am going, though,” said Drouet.

“I remembered the little girl out there,” said Hurstwood, “and called once. Thought you wouldn’t want her left quite alone.”

“Right you are,” agreed Drouet. “How is she?”

“Very well,” said Hurstwood. “Rather anxious about you though. You’d better go out now and cheer her up.”

“I will,” said Drouet, smilingly.

“Like to have you both come down and go to the show with me Wednesday,” concluded Hurstwood at parting.

“Thanks, old man,” said his friend, “I’ll see what the girl says and let you know.”

They separated in the most cordial manner.

“There’s a nice fellow,” Drouet thought to himself as he turned the corner towards Madison.

“Drouet is a good fellow,” Hurstwood thought to himself as he went back into his office, “but he’s no man for Carrie.”

The thought of the latter turned his mind into a most pleasant vein, and he wandered how he would get ahead of the drummer.

When Drouet entered Carrie’s presence, he caught her in his arms as usual, but she responded to his kiss with a tremour of opposition.

“Well,” he said, “I had a great trip.”

“Did you? How did you come out with that La Crosse man you were telling me about?”

“Oh, fine; sold him a complete line. There was another fellow there, representing Burnstein, a regular hook-nosed sheeny, but he wasn’t in it. I made him look like nothing at all.”

As he undid his collar and unfastened his studs, preparatory to washing his face and changing his clothes, he dilated upon his trip. Carrie could not help listening with amusement to his animated descriptions.

“I tell you,” he said, “I surprised the people at the office. I’ve sold more goods this last quarter than any other man of our house on the road. I sold three thousand dollars’ worth in La Crosse.”

He plunged his face in a basin of water, and puffed and blew as he rubbed his neck and ears with his hands, while Carrie gazed upon him with mingled thoughts of recollection and present judgment. He was still wiping his face, when he continued:

“I’m going to strike for a raise in June. They can afford to pay it, as much business as I turn in. I’ll get it too, don’t you forget.”

“I hope you do,” said Carrie.

“And then if that little real estate deal I’ve got on goes through, we’ll get married,” he said with a great show of earnestness, the while he took his place before the mirror and began brushing his hair.

“I don’t believe you ever intend to marry me, Charlie,” Carrie said ruefully. The recent protestations of Hurstwood had given her courage to say this.

“Oh, yes I do — course I do — what put that into your head?”

He had stopped his trifling before the mirror now and crossed over to her. For the first time Carrie felt as if she must move away from him.

“But you’ve been saying that so long,” she said, looking with her pretty face upturned into his.

“Well, and I mean it too, but it takes money to live as I want to. Now, when I get this increase, I can come pretty near fixing things all right, and I’ll do it. Now, don’t you worry, girlie.”

He patted her reassuringly upon the shoulder, but Carrie felt how really futile had been her hopes. She could clearly see that this easy-going soul intended no move in her behalf. He was simply letting things drift because he preferred the free round of his present state to any legal trammellings.

In contrast, Hurstwood appeared strong and sincere. He had no easy manner of putting her off. He sympathised with her and showed her what her true value was. He needed her, while Drouet did not care.

“Oh, no,” she said remorsefully, her tone reflecting some of her own success and more of her helplessness, “you never will.”

“Well, you wait a little while and see,” he concluded. “I’ll marry you all right.”

Carrie looked at him and felt justified. She was looking for something which would calm her conscience, and here it was, a light, airy disregard of her claims upon his justice. He had faithfully promised to marry her, and this was the way he fulfilled his promise.

“Say,” he said, after he had, as he thought, pleasantly disposed of the marriage question, “I saw Hurstwood today, and he wants us to go to the theatre with him.”

Carrie started at the name, but recovered quickly enough to avoid notice.

“When?” she asked, with assumed indifference.

“Wednesday. We’ll go, won’t we?”

“If you think so,” she answered, her manner being so enforcedly reserved as to almost excite suspicion. Drouet noticed something but he thought it was due to her feelings concerning their talk about marriage. “He called once, he said.”

“Yes,” said Carrie, “he was out here Sunday evening.”

“Was he?” said Drouet. “I thought from what he said that he had called a week or so ago.”

“So he did,” answered Carrie, who was wholly unaware of what conversation her lovers might have held. She was all at sea mentally, and fearful of some entanglement which might ensue from what she would answer.

“Oh, then he called twice?” said Drouet, the first shade of misunderstanding showing in his face.

“Yes,” said Carrie innocently, feeling now that Hurstwood must have mentioned but one call.

Drouet imagined that he must have misunderstood his friend. He did not attach particular importance to the information, after all.

“What did he have to say?” he queried, with slightly increased curiosity.

“He said he came because he thought I might be lonely. You hadn’t been in there so long he wondered what had become of you.”

“George is a fine fellow,” said Drouet, rather gratified by his conception of the manager’s interest. “Come on and we’ll go out to dinner.”

When Hurstwood saw that Drouet was back he wrote at once to Carrie, saying:

“I told him I called on you, dearest, when he was away. I did not say how often, but he probably thought once. Let me know of anything you may have said. Answer by special messenger when you get this, and, darling, I must see you. Let me know if you can’t meet me at Jackson and Throop Streets Wednesday afternoon at two o’clock. I want to speak with you before we meet at the theatre.”

Carrie received this Tuesday morning when she called at the West Side branch of the post-office, and answered at once.

“I said you called twice,” she wrote. “He didn’t seem to mind. I will try and be at Throop Street if nothing interferes. I seem to be getting very bad. It’s wrong to act as I do, I know.”

Hurstwood, when he met her as agreed, reassured her on this score.

“You mustn’t worry, sweetheart,” he said. “Just as soon as he goes on the road again we will arrange something. We’ll fix it so that you won’t have to deceive any one.”

Carrie imagined that he would marry her at once, though he had not directly said so, and her spirits rose. She proposed to make the best of the situation until Drouet left again.

“Don’t show any more interest in me than you ever have,” Hurstwood counselled concerning the evening at the theatre.

“You mustn’t look at me steadily then,” she answered, mindful of the power of his eyes.

“I won’t,” he said, squeezing her hand at parting and giving the glance she had just cautioned against.

“There,” she said playfully, pointing a finger at him.

“The show hasn’t begun yet,” he returned.

He watched her walk from him with tender solicitation. Such youth and prettiness reacted upon him more subtly than wine.

At the theatre things passed as they had in Hurstwood’s favour. If he had been pleasing to Carrie before, how much more so was he now. His grace was more permeating because it found a readier medium. Carrie watched his every movement with pleasure. She almost forgot poor Drouet, who babbled on as if he were the host.

Hurstwood was too clever to give the slightest indication of a change. He paid, if anything, more attention to his old friend than usual, and yet in no way held him up to that subtle ridicule which a lover in favour may so secretly practise before the mistress of his heart. If anything, he felt the injustice of the game as it stood, and was not cheap enough to add to it the slightest mental taunt.

Only the play produced an ironical situation, and this was due to Drouet alone.

The scene was one in “The Covenant,” in which the wife listened to the seductive voice of a lover in the absence of her husband.

“Served him right,” said Drouet afterward, even in view of her keen expiation of her error. “I haven’t any pity for a man who would be such a chump as that.”

“Well, you never can tell,” returned Hurstwood gently. “He probably thought he was right.”

“Well, a man ought to be more attentive than that to his wife if he wants to keep her.”

They had come out of the lobby and made their way through the showy crush about the entrance way.

“Say, mister,” said a voice at Hurstwood’s side, “would you mind giving me the price of a bed?”

Hurstwood was interestedly remarking to Carrie.

“Honest to God, mister, I’m without a place to sleep.”

The plea was that of a gaunt-faced man of about thirty, who looked the picture of privation and wretchedness. Drouet was the first to see. He handed over a dime with an upwelling feeling of pity in his heart. Hurstwood scarcely noticed the incident. Carrie quickly forgot.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37