Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XV

The Irk of the Old Ties — The Magic of Youth

The complete ignoring by Hurstwood of his own home came with the growth of his affection for Carrie. His actions, in all that related to his family, were of the most perfunctory kind. He sat at breakfast with his wife and children, absorbed in his own fancies, which reached far without the realm of their interests. He read his paper, which was heightened in interest by the shallowness of the themes discussed by his son and daughter. Between himself and his wife ran a river of indifference.

Now that Carrie had come, he was in a fair way to be blissful again. There was delight in going down town evenings. When he walked forth in the short days, the street lamps had a merry twinkle. He began to experience the almost forgotten feeling which hastens the lover’s feet. When he looked at his fine clothes, he saw them with her eyes — and her eyes were young.

When in the flush of such feelings he heard his wife’s voice, when the insistent demands of matrimony recalled him from dreams to a stale practice, how it grated. He then knew that this was a chain which bound his feet.

“George,” said Mrs. Hurstwood, in that tone of voice which had long since come to be associated in his mind with demands, “we want you to get us a season ticket to the races.”

“Do you want to go to all of them?” he said with a rising inflection.

“Yes,” she answered.

The races in question were soon to open at Washington Park, on the South Side, and were considered quite society affairs among those who did not affect religious rectitude and conservatism. Mrs. Hurstwood had never asked for a whole season ticket before, but this year certain considerations decided her to get a box. For one thing, one of her neighbours, a certain Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, who were possessors of money, made out of the coal business, had done so. In the next place, her favourite physician, Dr. Beale, a gentleman inclined to horses and betting, had talked with her concerning his intention to enter a two-year-old in the Derby. In the third place, she wished to exhibit Jessica, who was gaining in maturity and beauty, and whom she hoped to marry to a man of means. Her own desire to be about in such things and parade among her acquaintances and common throng was as much an incentive as anything.

Hurstwood thought over the proposition a few moments without answering. They were in the sitting room on the second floor, waiting for supper. It was the evening of his engagement with Carrie and Drouet to see “The Covenant,” which had brought him home to make some alterations in his dress.

“You’re sure separate tickets wouldn’t do as well?” he asked, hesitating to say anything more rugged.

“No,” she replied impatiently.

“Well,” he said, taking offence at her manner, “you needn’t get mad about it. I’m just asking you.”

“I’m not mad,” she snapped. “I’m merely asking you for a season ticket.”

“And I’m telling you,” he returned, fixing a clear, steady eye on her, “that it’s no easy thing to get. I’m not sure whether the manager will give it to me.”

He had been thinking all the time of his “pull” with the race-track magnates.

“We can buy it then,” she exclaimed sharply.

“You talk easy,” he said. “A season family ticket costs one hundred and fifty dollars.”

“I’ll not argue with you,” she replied with determination. “I want the ticket and that’s all there is to it.”

She had risen, and now walked angrily out of the room.

“Well, you get it then,” he said grimly, though in a modified tone of voice.

As usual, the table was one short that evening.

The next morning he had cooled down considerably, and later the ticket was duly secured, though it did not heal matters. He did not mind giving his family a fair share of all that he earned, but he did not like to be forced to provide against his will.

“Did you know, mother,” said Jessica another day, “the Spencers are getting ready to go away?”

“No. Where, I wonder?”

“Europe,” said Jessica. “I met Georgine yesterday and she told me. She just put on more airs about it.”

“Did she say when?”

“Monday, I think. They’ll get a notice in the papers again — they always do.”

“Never mind,” said Mrs. Hurstwood consolingly, “we’ll go one of these days.”

Hurstwood moved his eyes over the paper slowly, but said nothing.

“‘We sail for Liverpool from New York,’” Jessica exclaimed, mocking her acquaintance. “‘Expect to spend most of the “summah” in France,’ — vain thing. As If it was anything to go to Europe.”

“It must be if you envy her so much,” put in Hurstwood.

It grated upon him to see the feeling his daughter displayed.

“Don’t worry over them, my dear,” said Mrs. Hurstwood.

“Did George get off?” asked Jessica of her mother another day, thus revealing something that Hurstwood had heard nothing about.

“Where has he gone?” he asked, looking up. He had never before been kept in ignorance concerning departures.

“He was going to Wheaton,” said Jessica, not noticing the slight put upon her father.

“What’s out there?” he asked, secretly irritated and chagrined to think that he should be made to pump for information in this manner.

“A tennis match,” said Jessica.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” Hurstwood concluded, finding it difficult to refrain from a bitter tone.

“I guess he must have forgotten,” exclaimed his wife blandly. In the past he had always commanded a certain amount of respect, which was a compound of appreciation and awe. The familiarity which in part still existed between himself and his daughter he had courted. As it was, it did not go beyond the light assumption of words. The TONE was always modest. Whatever had been, however, had lacked affection, and now he saw that he was losing track of their doings. His knowledge was no longer intimate. He sometimes saw them at table, and sometimes did not. He heard of their doings occasionally, more often not. Some days he found that he was all at sea as to what they were talking about — things they had arranged to do or that they had done in his absence. More affecting was the feeling that there were little things going on of which he no longer heard. Jessica was beginning to feel that her affairs were her own. George, Jr., flourished about as if he were a man entirely and must needs have private matters. All this Hurstwood could see, and it left a trace of feeling, for he was used to being considered — in his official position, at least — and felt that his importance should not begin to wane here. To darken it all, he saw the same indifference and independence growing in his wife, while he looked on and paid the bills.

He consoled himself with the thought, however, that, after all, he was not without affection. Things might go as they would at his house, but he had Carrie outside of it. With his mind’s eye he looked into her comfortable room in Ogden Place, where he had spent several such delightful evenings, and thought how charming it would be when Drouet was disposed of entirely and she was waiting evenings in cosey little quarters for him. That no cause would come up whereby Drouet would be led to inform Carrie concerning his married state, he felt hopeful. Things were going so smoothly that he believed they would not change. Shortly now he would persuade Carrie and all would be satisfactory.

The day after their theatre visit he began writing her regularly — a letter every morning, and begging her to do as much for him. He was not literary by any means, but experience of the world and his growing affection gave him somewhat of a style. This he exercised at his office desk with perfect deliberation. He purchased a box of delicately coloured and scented writing paper in monogram, which he kept locked in one of the drawers. His friends now wondered at the cleric and very official-looking nature of his position. The five bartenders viewed with respect the duties which could call a man to do so much desk-work and penmanship.

Hurstwood surprised himself with his fluency. By the natural law which governs all effort, what he wrote reacted upon him. He began to feel those subtleties which he could find words to express. With every expression came increased conception. Those inmost breathings which there found words took hold upon him. He thought Carrie worthy of all the affection he could there express.

Carrie was indeed worth loving if ever youth and grace are to command that token of acknowledgment from life in their bloom. Experience had not yet taken away that freshness of the spirit which is the charm of the body. Her soft eyes contained in their liquid lustre no suggestion of the knowledge of disappointment. She had been troubled in a way by doubt and longing, but these had made no deeper impression than could be traced in a certain open wistfulness of glance and speech. The mouth had the expression at times, in talking and in repose, of one who might be upon the verge of tears. It was not that grief was thus ever present. The pronunciation of certain syllables gave to her lips this peculiarity of formation — a formation as suggestive and moving as pathos itself.

There was nothing bold in her manner. Life had not taught her domination — superciliousness of grace, which is the lordly power of some women. Her longing for consideration was not sufficiently powerful to move her to demand it. Even now she lacked self-assurance, but there was that in what she had already experienced which left her a little less than timid. She wanted pleasure, she wanted position, and yet she was confused as to what these things might be. Every hour the kaleidoscope of human affairs threw a new lustre upon something, and therewith it became for her the desired — the all. Another shift of the box, and some other had become the beautiful, the perfect.

On her spiritual side, also, she was rich in feeling, as such a nature well might be. Sorrow in her was aroused by many a spectacle — an uncritical upwelling of grief for the weak and the helpless. She was constantly pained by the sight of the white-faced, ragged men who slopped desperately by her in a sort of wretched mental stupor. The poorly clad girls who went blowing by her window evenings, hurrying home from some of the shops of the West Side, she pitied from the depths of her heart. She would stand and bite her lips as they passed, shaking her little head and wondering. They had so little, she thought. It was so sad to be ragged and poor. The hang of faded clothes pained her eyes.

“And they have to work so hard!” was her only comment.

On the street sometimes she would see men working — Irishmen with picks, coal-heavers with great loads to shovel, Americans busy about some work which was a mere matter of strength — and they touched her fancy. Toil, now that she was free of it, seemed even a more desolate thing than when she was part of it. She saw it through a mist of fancy — a pale, sombre half-light, which was the essence of poetic feeling. Her old father, in his flour-dusted miller’s suit, sometimes returned to her in memory, revived by a face in a window. A shoemaker pegging at his last, a blastman seen through a narrow window in some basement where iron was being melted, a bench-worker seen high aloft in some window, his coat off, his sleeves rolled up; these took her back in fancy to the details of the mill. She felt, though she seldom expressed them, sad thoughts upon this score. Her sympathies were ever with that under-world of toil from which she had so recently sprung, and which she best understood.

Though Hurstwood did not know it, he was dealing with one whose feelings were as tender and as delicate as this. He did not know, but it was this in her, after all, which attracted him. He never attempted to analyse the nature of his affection. It was sufficient that there was tenderness in her eye, weakness in her manner, good nature and hope in her thoughts. He drew near this lily, which had sucked its waxen beauty and perfume from below a depth of waters which he had never penetrated, and out of ooze and mould which he could not understand. He drew near because it was waxen and fresh. It lightened his feelings for him. It made the morning worth while.

In a material way, she was considerably improved. Her awkwardness had all but passed, leaving, if anything, a quaint residue which was as pleasing as perfect grace. Her little shoes now fitted her smartly and had high heels. She had learned much about laces and those little neckpieces which add so much to a woman’s appearance. Her form had filled out until it was admirably plump and well-rounded.

Hurstwood wrote her one morning, asking her to meet him in Jefferson Park, Monroe Street. He did not consider it policy to call any more, even when Drouet was at home.

The next afternoon he was in the pretty little park by one, and had found a rustic bench beneath the green leaves of a lilac bush which bordered one of the paths. It was at that season of the year when the fulness of spring had not yet worn quite away. At a little pond near by some cleanly dressed children were sailing white canvas boats. In the shade of a green pagoda a bebuttoned officer of the law was resting, his arms folded, his club at rest in his belt. An old gardener was upon the lawn, with a pair of pruning shears, looking after some bushes. High overhead was the clean blue sky of the new summer, and in the thickness of the shiny green leaves of the trees hopped and twittered the busy sparrows.

Hurstwood had come out of his own home that morning feeling much of the same old annoyance. At his store he had idled, there being no need to write. He had come away to this place with the lightness of heart which characterises those who put weariness behind. Now, in the shade of this cool, green bush, he looked about him with the fancy of the lover. He heard the carts go lumbering by upon the neighbouring streets, but they were far off, and only buzzed upon his ear. The hum of the surrounding city was faint, the clang of an occasional bell was as music. He looked and dreamed a new dream of pleasure which concerned his present fixed condition not at all. He got back in fancy to the old Hurstwood, who was neither married nor fixed in a solid position for life. He remembered the light spirit in which he once looked after the girls — how he had danced, escorted them home, hung over their gates. He almost wished he was back there again — here in this pleasant scene he felt as if he were wholly free.

At two Carrie came tripping along the walk toward him, rosy and clean. She had just recently donned a sailor hat for the season with a band of pretty white-dotted blue silk. Her skirt was of a rich blue material, and her shirt waist matched it, with a thin-stripe of blue upon a snow-white ground — stripes that were as fine as hairs. Her brown shoes peeped occasionally from beneath her skirt. She carried her gloves in her hand.

Hurstwood looked up at her with delight.

“You came, dearest,” he said eagerly, standing to meet her and taking her hand.

“Of course,” she said, smiling; “did you think I wouldn’t?”

“I didn’t know,” he replied.

He looked at her forehead, which was moist from her brisk walk. Then he took out one of his own soft, scented silk handkerchiefs and touched her face here and there.

“Now,” he said affectionately, “you’re all right.”

They were happy in being near one another — in looking into each other’s eyes. Finally, when the long flush of delight had sub sided, he said:

“When is Charlie going away again?”

“I don’t know,” she answered. “He says he has some things to do for the house here now.”

Hurstwood grew serious, and he lapsed into quiet thought. He looked up after a time to say:

“Come away and leave him.”

He turned his eyes to the boys with the boats, as if the request were of little importance.

“Where would we go?” she asked in much the same manner, rolling her gloves, and looking into a neighbouring tree.

“Where do you want to go?” he enquired.

There was something in the tone in which he said this which made her feel as if she must record her feelings against any local habitation.

“We can’t stay in Chicago,” she replied.

He had no thought that this was in her mind — that any removal would be suggested.

“Why not?” he asked softly.

“Oh, because,” she said, “I wouldn’t want to.”

He listened to this with but dull perception of what it meant. It had no serious ring to it. The question was not up for immediate decision.

“I would have to give up my position,” he said.

The tone he used made it seem as if the matter deserved only slight consideration. Carrie thought a little, the while enjoying the pretty scene.

“I wouldn’t like to live in Chicago and him here,” she said, thinking of Drouet.

“It’s a big town, dearest,” Hurstwood answered. “It would be as good as moving to another part of the country to move to the South Side.”

He had fixed upon that region as an objective point.

“Anyhow,” said Carrie, “I shouldn’t want to get married as long as he is here. I wouldn’t want to run away.”

The suggestion of marriage struck Hurstwood forcibly. He saw clearly that this was her idea — he felt that it was not to be gotten over easily. Bigamy lightened the horizon of his shadowy thoughts for a moment. He wondered for the life of him how it would all come out. He could not see that he was making any progress save in her regard. When he looked at her now, he thought her beautiful. What a thing it was to have her love him, even if it be entangling! She increased in value in his eyes because of her objection. She was something to struggle for, and that was everything. How different from the women who yielded willingly! He swept the thought of them from his mind.

“And you don’t know when he’ll go away?” asked Hurstwood, quietly.

She shook her head.

He sighed.

“You’re a determined little miss, aren’t you?” he said, after a few moments, looking up into her eyes.

She felt a wave of feeling sweep over her at this. It was pride at what seemed his admiration — affection for the man who could feel this concerning her.

“No,” she said coyly, “but what can I do?”

Again he folded his hands and looked away over the lawn into the street.

“I wish,” he said pathetically, “you would come to me. I don’t like to be away from you this way. What good is there in waiting? You’re not any happier, are you?”

“Happier!” she exclaimed softly, “you know better than that.”

“Here we are then,” he went on in the same tone, “wasting our days. If you are not happy, do you think I am? I sit and write to you the biggest part of the time. I’ll tell you what, Carrie,” he exclaimed, throwing sudden force of expression into his voice and fixing her with his eyes, “I can’t live without you, and that’s all there is to it. Now,” he concluded, showing the palm of one of his white hands in a sort of at-an-end, helpless expression, “what shall I do?”

This shifting of the burden to her appealed to Carrie. The semblance of the load without the weight touched the woman’s heart.

“Can’t you wait a little while yet?” she said tenderly. “I’ll try and find out when he’s going.”

“What good will it do?” he asked, holding the same strain of feeling.

“Well, perhaps we can arrange to go somewhere.”

She really did not see anything clearer than before, but she was getting into that frame of mind where, out of sympathy, a woman yields.

Hurstwood did not understand. He was wondering how she was to be persuaded — what appeal would move her to forsake Drouet. He began to wonder how far her affection for him would carry her. He was thinking of some question which would make her tell.

Finally he hit upon one of those problematical propositions which often disguise our own desires while leading us to an understanding of the difficulties which others make for us, and so discover for us a way. It had not the slightest connection with anything intended on his part, and was spoken at random before he had given it a moment’s serious thought.

“Carrie,” he said, looking into her face and assuming a serious look which he did not feel, “suppose I were to come to you next week, or this week for that matter — to-night say — and tell you I had to go away — that I couldn’t stay another minute and wasn’t coming back any more — would you come with me?” His sweetheart viewed him with the most affectionate glance, her answer ready before the words were out of his mouth.

“Yes,” she said.

“You wouldn’t stop to argue or arrange?”

“Not if you couldn’t wait.”

He smiled when he saw that she took him seriously, and he thought what a chance it would afford for a possible junket of a week or two. He had a notion to tell her that he was joking and so brush away her sweet seriousness, but the effect of it was too delightful. He let it stand.

“Suppose we didn’t have time to get married here?” he added, an afterthought striking him.

“If we got married as soon as we got to the other end of the journey it would be all right.”

“I meant that,” he said.

“Yes.”

The morning seemed peculiarly bright to him now. He wondered whatever could have put such a thought into his head. Impossible as it was, he could not help smiling at its cleverness. It showed how she loved him. There was no doubt in his mind now, and he would find a way to win her.

“Well,” he said, jokingly, “I’ll come and get you one of these evenings,” and then he laughed.

“I wouldn’t stay with you, though, if you didn’t marry me,” Carrie added reflectively.

“I don’t want you to,” he said tenderly, taking her hand.

She was extremely happy now that she understood. She loved him the more for thinking that he would rescue her so. As for him, the marriage clause did not dwell in his mind. He was thinking that with such affection there could be no bar to his eventual happiness.

“Let’s stroll about,” he said gayly, rising and surveying all the lovely park.

“All right,” said Carrie.

They passed the young Irishman, who looked after them with envious eyes.

“’Tis a foine couple,” he observed to himself. “They must be rich.”

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