Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XVI

A Witless Aladdin — The Gate to the World

In the course of his present stay in Chicago, Drouet paid some slight attention to the secret order to which he belonged. During his last trip he had received a new light on its importance.

“I tell you,” said another drummer to him, “it’s a great thing. Look at Hazenstab. He isn’t so deuced clever. Of course he’s got a good house behind him, but that won’t do alone. I tell you it’s his degree. He’s a way-up Mason, and that goes a long way. He’s got a secret sign that stands for something.”

Drouet resolved then and there that he would take more interest in such matters. So when he got back to Chicago he repaired to his local lodge headquarters.

“I say, Drouet,” said Mr. Harry Quincel, an individual who was very prominent in this local branch of the Elks, “you’re the man that can help us out.”

It was after the business meeting and things were going socially with a hum. Drouet was bobbing around chatting and joking with a score of individuals whom he knew.

“What are you up to?” he inquired genially, turning a smiling face upon his secret brother.

“We’re trying to get up some theatricals for two weeks from today, and we want to know if you don’t know some young lady who could take a part — it’s an easy part.”

“Sure,” said Drouet, “what is it?” He did not trouble to remember that he knew no one to whom he could appeal on this score. His innate good-nature, however, dictated a favourable reply.

“Well, now, I’ll tell you what we are trying to do,” went on Mr. Quincel. “We are trying to get a new set of furniture for the lodge. There isn’t enough money in the treasury at the present time, and we thought we would raise it by a little entertainment.”

“Sure,” interrupted Drouet, “that’s a good idea.”

“Several of the boys around here have got talent. There’s Harry Burbeck, he does a fine black-face turn. Mac Lewis is all right at heavy dramatics. Did you ever hear him recite ‘Over the Hills’?”

“Never did.”

“Well, I tell you, he does it fine.”

“And you want me to get some woman to take a part?” questioned Drouet, anxious to terminate the subject and get on to something else. “What are you going to play?”

“‘Under the Gaslight,’” said Mr. Quincel, mentioning Augustin Daly’s famous production, which had worn from a great public success down to an amateur theatrical favourite, with many of the troublesome accessories cut out and the dramatis personae reduced to the smallest possible number.

Drouet had seen this play some time in the past.

“That’s it,” he said; “that’s a fine play. It will go all right. You ought to make a lot of money out of that.”

“We think we’ll do very well,” Mr. Quincel replied. “Don’t you forget now,” he concluded, Drouet showing signs of restlessness; “some young woman to take the part of Laura.”

“Sure, I’ll attend to it.”

He moved away, forgetting almost all about it the moment Mr. Quincel had ceased talking. He had not even thought to ask the time or place.

Drouet was reminded of his promise a day or two later by the receipt of a letter announcing that the first rehearsal was set for the following Friday evening, and urging him to kindly forward the young lady’s address at once, in order that the part might be delivered to her.

“Now, who the deuce do I know?” asked the drummer reflectively, scratching his rosy ear. “I don’t know any one that knows anything about amateur theatricals.”

He went over in memory the names of a number of women he knew, and finally fixed on one, largely because of the convenient location of her home on the West Side, and promised himself that as he came out that evening he would see her. When, however, he started west on the car he forgot, and was only reminded of his delinquency by an item in the “Evening News” — a small three-line affair under the head of Secret Society Notes — which stated the Custer Lodge of the Order of Elks would give a theatrical performance in Avery Hall on the 16th, when “Under the Gaslight” would be produced.

“George!” exclaimed Drouet, “I forgot that.”

“What?” inquired Carrie.

They were at their little table in the room which might have been used for a kitchen, where Carrie occasionally served a meal. To-night the fancy had caught her, and the little table was spread with a pleasing repast.

“Why, my lodge entertainment. They’re going to give a play, and they wanted me to get them some young lady to take a part.”

“What is it they’re going to play?”

“‘Under the Gaslight.’”

“When?”

“On the 16th.”

“Well, why don’t you?” asked Carrie.

“I don’t know any one,” he replied.

Suddenly he looked up.

“Say,” he said, “how would you like to take the part?”

“Me?” said Carrie. “I can’t act.”

“How do you know?” questioned Drouet reflectively.

“Because,” answered Carrie, “I never did.”

Nevertheless, she was pleased to think he would ask. Her eyes brightened, for if there was anything that enlisted her sympathies it was the art of the stage. True to his nature, Drouet clung to this idea as an easy way out.

“That’s nothing. You can act all you have to down there.”

“No, I can’t,” said Carrie weakly, very much drawn toward the proposition and yet fearful.

“Yes, you can. Now, why don’t you do it? They need some one, and it will be lots of fun for you.”

“Oh, no, it won’t,” said Carrie seriously.

“You’d like that. I know you would. I’ve seen you dancing around here and giving imitations and that’s why I asked you. You’re clever enough, all right.”

“No, I’m not,” said Carrie shyly.

“Now, I’ll tell you what you do. You go down and see about it. It’ll be fun for you. The rest of the company isn’t going to be any good. They haven’t any experience. What do they know about theatricals?”

He frowned as he thought of their ignorance.

“Hand me the coffee,” he added.

“I don’t believe I could act, Charlie,” Carrie went on pettishly. “You don’t think I could, do you?”

“Sure. Out o’ sight. I bet you make a hit. Now you want to go, I know you do. I knew it when I came home. That’s why I asked you.”

“What is the play, did you say?”

“‘Under the Gaslight.’”

“What part would they want me to take?”

“Oh, one of the heroines — I don’t know.”

“What sort of a play is it?”

“Well,” said Drouet, whose memory for such things was not the best, “it’s about a girl who gets kidnapped by a couple of crooks — a man and a woman that live in the slums. She had some money or something and they wanted to get it. I don’t know now how it did go exactly.”

“Don’t you know what part I would have to take?”

“No, I don’t, to tell the truth.” He thought a moment. “Yes, I do, too. Laura, that’s the thing — you’re to be Laura.”

“And you can’t remember what the part is like?”

“To save me, Cad, I can’t,” he answered. “I ought to, too; I’ve seen the play enough. There’s a girl in it that was stolen when she was an infant — was picked off the street or something — and she’s the one that’s hounded by the two old criminals I was telling you about.” He stopped with a mouthful of pie poised on a fork before his face. “She comes very near getting drowned — no, that’s not it. I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he concluded hopelessly, “I’ll get you the book. I can’t remember now for the life of me.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Carrie, when he had concluded, her interest and desire to shine dramatically struggling with her timidity for the mastery. “I might go if you thought I’d do all right.”

“Of course, you’ll do,” said Drouet, who, in his efforts to enthuse Carrie, had interested himself. “Do you think I’d come home here and urge you to do something that I didn’t think you would make a success of? You can act all right. It’ll be good for you.”

“When must I go?” said Carrie, reflectively.

“The first rehearsal is Friday night. I’ll get the part for you to-night.”

“All right,” said Carrie resignedly, “I’ll do it, but if I make a failure now it’s your fault.”

“You won’t fail,” assured Drouet. “Just act as you do around here. Be natural. You’re all right. I’ve often thought you’d make a corking good actress.”

“Did you really?” asked Carrie.

“That’s right,” said the drummer.

He little knew as he went out of the door that night what a secret flame he had kindled in the bosom of the girl he left behind. Carrie was possessed of that sympathetic, impressionable nature which, ever in the most developed form, has been the glory of the drama. She was created with that passivity of soul which is always the mirror of the active world. She possessed an innate taste for imitation and no small ability. Even without practice, she could sometimes restore dramatic situations she had witnessed by re-creating, before her mirror, the expressions of the various faces taking part in the scene. She loved to modulate her voice after the conventional manner of the distressed heroine, and repeat such pathetic fragments as appealed most to her sympathies. Of late, seeing the airy grace of the ingenue in several well-constructed plays, she had been moved to secretly imitate it, and many were the little movements and expressions of the body in which she indulged from time to time in the privacy of her chamber. On several occasions, when Drouet had caught her admiring herself, as he imagined, in the mirror, she was doing nothing more than recalling some little grace of the mouth or the eyes which she had witnessed in another. Under his airy accusation she mistook this for vanity and accepted the blame with a faint sense of error, though, as a matter of fact, it was nothing more than the first subtle outcroppings of an artistic nature, endeavouring to re-create the perfect likeness of some phase of beauty which appealed to her. In such feeble tendencies, be it known, such outworking of desire to reproduce life, lies the basis of all dramatic art.

Now, when Carrie heard Drouet’s laudatory opinion of her dramatic ability, her body tingled with satisfaction. Like the flame which welds the loosened particles into a solid mass, his words united those floating wisps of feeling which she had felt, but never believed, concerning her possible ability, and made them into a gaudy shred of hope. Like all human beings, she had a touch of vanity. She felt that she could do things if she only had a chance. How often had she looked at the well-dressed actresses on the stage and wondered how she would look, how delightful she would feel if only she were in their place. The glamour, the tense situation, the fine clothes, the applause, these had lured her until she felt that she, too, could act — that she, too, could compel acknowledgment of power. Now she was told that she really could — that little things she had done about the house had made even him feel her power. It was a delightful sensation while it lasted.

When Drouet was gone, she sat down in her rocking-chair by the window to think about it. As usual, imagination exaggerated the possibilities for her. It was as if he had put fifty cents in her hand and she had exercised the thoughts of a thousand dollars. She saw herself in a score of pathetic situations in which she assumed a tremulous voice and suffering manner. Her mind delighted itself with scenes of luxury and refinement, situations in which she was the cynosure of all eyes, the arbiter of all fates. As she rocked to and fro she felt the tensity of woe in abandonment, the magnificence of wrath after deception, the languour of sorrow after defeat. Thoughts of all the charming women she had seen in plays — every fancy, every illusion which she had concerning the stage — now came back as a returning tide after the ebb. She built up feelings and a determination which the occasion did not warrant.

Drouet dropped in at the lodge when he went down town, and swashed around with a great AIR, as Quincel met him.

“Where is that young lady you were going to get for us?” asked the latter.

“I’ve got her,” said Drouet.

“Have you?” said Quincel, rather surprised by his promptness; “that’s good. What’s her address?” and he pulled out his notebook in order to be able to send her part to her.

“You want to send her her part?” asked the drummer.

“Yes.”

“Well, I’ll take it. I’m going right by her house in the morning.

“What did you say her address was? We only want it in case we have any information to send her.”

“Twenty-nine Ogden Place.”

“And her name?”

“Carrie Madenda,” said the drummer, firing at random. The lodge members knew him to be single.

“That sounds like somebody that can act, doesn’t it?” said Quincel.

“Yes, it does.”

He took the part home to Carrie and handed it to her with the manner of one who does a favour.

“He says that’s the best part. Do you think you can do it?”

“I don’t know until I look it over. You know I’m afraid, now that I’ve said I would.”

“Oh, go on. What have you got to be afraid of? It’s a cheap company. The rest of them aren’t as good as you are.”

“Well, I’ll see,” said Carrie, pleased to have the part, for all her misgivings.

He sidled around, dressing and fidgeting before he arranged to make his next remark.

“They were getting ready to print the programmes,” he said, “and I gave them the name of Carrie Madenda. Was that all right?”

“Yes, I guess so,” said his companion, looking up at him. She was thinking it was slightly strange.

“If you didn’t make a hit, you know,” he went on.

“Oh, yes,” she answered, rather pleased now with his caution. It was clever for Drouet.

“I didn’t want to introduce you as my wife, because you’d feel worse then if you didn’t GO. They all know me so well. But you’ll GO all right. Anyhow, you’ll probably never meet any of them again.”

“Oh, I don’t care,” said Carrie desperately. She was determined now to have a try at the fascinating game.

Drouet breathed a sigh of relief. He had been afraid that he was about to precipitate another conversation upon the marriage question.

The part of Laura, as Carrie found out when she began to examine it, was one of suffering and tears. As delineated by Mr. Daly, it was true to the most sacred traditions of melodrama as he found it when he began his career. The sorrowful demeanour, the tremolo music, the long, explanatory, cumulative addresses, all were there.

“Poor fellow,” read Carrie, consulting the text and drawing her voice out pathetically. “Martin, be sure and give him a glass of wine before he goes.”

She was surprised at the briefness of the entire part, not knowing that she must be on the stage while others were talking, and not only be there, but also keep herself in harmony with the dramatic movement of the scenes.

“I think I can do that, though,” she concluded.

When Drouet came the next night, she was very much satisfied with her day’s study.

“Well, how goes it, Caddie?” he said.

“All right,” she laughed. “I think I have it memorised nearly.”

“That’s good,” he said. “Let’s hear some of it.”

“Oh, I don’t know whether I can get up and say it off here,” she said bashfully.

“Well, I don’t know why you shouldn’t. It’ll be easier here than it will there.”

“I don’t know about that,” she answered. Eventually she took off the ballroom episode with considerable feeling, forgetting, as she got deeper in the scene, all about Drouet, and letting herself rise to a fine state of feeling.

“Good,” said Drouet; “fine, out o’ sight! You’re all right Caddie, I tell you.”

He was really moved by her excellent representation and the general appearance of the pathetic little figure as it swayed and finally fainted to the floor. He had bounded up to catch her, and now held her laughing in his arms.

“Ain’t you afraid you’ll hurt yourself?” he asked.

“Not a bit.”

“Well, you’re a wonder. Say, I never knew you could do anything like that.”

“I never did, either,” said Carrie merrily, her face flushed with delight.

“Well, you can bet that you’re all right,” said Drouet. “You can take my word for that. You won’t fail.”

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