Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XXVI

The Ambassador Fallen — A Search for the Gate

Carrie, left alone by Drouet, listened to his retreating steps, scarcely realising what had happened. She knew that he had stormed out. It was some moments before she questioned whether he would return, not now exactly, but ever. She looked around her upon the rooms, out of which the evening light was dying, and wondered why she did not feel quite the same towards them. She went over to the dresser and struck a match, lighting the gas. Then she went back to the rocker to think.

It was some time before she could collect her thoughts, but when she did, this truth began to take on importance. She was quite alone. Suppose Drouet did not come back? Suppose she should never hear anything more of him? This fine arrangement of chambers would not last long. She would have to quit them.

To her credit, be it said, she never once counted on Hurstwood. She could only approach that subject with a pang of sorrow and regret. For a truth, she was rather shocked and frightened by this evidence of human depravity. He would have tricked her without turning an eyelash. She would have been led into a newer and worse situation. And yet she could not keep out the pictures of his looks and manners. Only this one deed seemed strange and miserable. It contrasted sharply with all she felt and knew concerning the man.

But she was alone. That was the greater thought just at present. How about that? Would she go out to work again? Would she begin to look around in the business district? The stage! Oh, yes. Drouet had spoken about that. Was there any hope there? She moved to and fro, in deep and varied thoughts, while the minutes slipped away and night fell completely. She had had nothing to eat, and yet there she sat, thinking it over.

She remembered that she was hungry and went to the little cupboard in the rear room where were the remains of one of their breakfasts. She looked at these things with certain misgivings. The contemplation of food had more significance than usual.

While she was eating she began to wonder how much money she had. It struck her as exceedingly important, and without ado she went to look for her purse. It was on the dresser, and in it were seven dollars in bills and some change. She quailed as she thought of the insignificance of the amount and rejoiced because the rent was paid until the end of the month. She began also to think what she would have done if she had gone out into the street when she first started. By the side of that situation, as she looked at it now, the present seemed agreeable. She had a little time at least, and then, perhaps, everything would come out all right, after all.

Drouet had gone, but what of it? He did not seem seriously angry. He only acted as if he were huffy. He would come back — of course he would. There was his cane in the corner. Here was one of his collars. He had left his light overcoat in the wardrobe. She looked about and tried to assure herself with the sight of a dozen such details, but, alas, the secondary thought arrived. Supposing he did come back. Then what?

Here was another proposition nearly, if not quite, as disturbing. She would have to talk with and explain to him. He would want her to admit that he was right. It would be impossible for her to live with him.

On Friday Carrie remembered her appointment with Hurstwood, and the passing of the hour when she should, by all right of promise, have been in his company served to keep the calamity which had befallen her exceedingly fresh and clear. In her nervousness and stress of mind she felt it necessary to act, and consequently put on a brown street dress, and at eleven o’clock started to visit the business portion once again. She must look for work.

The rain, which threatened at twelve and began at one, served equally well to cause her to retrace her steps and remain within doors as it did to reduce Hurstwood’s spirits and give him a wretched day.

The morrow was Saturday, a half-holiday in many business quarters, and besides it was a balmy, radiant day, with the trees and grass shining exceedingly green after the rain of the night before. When she went out the sparrows were twittering merrily in joyous choruses. She could not help feeling, as she looked across the lovely park, that life was a joyous thing for those who did not need to worry, and she wished over and over that something might interfere now to preserve for her the comfortable state which she had occupied. She did not want Drouet or his money when she thought of it, nor anything more to do with Hurstwood, but only the content and ease of mind she had experienced, for, after all, she had been happy — happier, at least, than she was now when confronted by the necessity of making her way alone.

When she arrived in the business part it was quite eleven o’clock, and the business had little longer to run. She did not realise this at first, being affected by some of the old distress which was a result of her earlier adventure into this strenuous and exacting quarter. She wandered about, assuring herself that she was making up her mind to look for something, and at the same time feeling that perhaps it was not necessary to be in such haste about it. The thing was difficult to encounter, and she had a few days. Besides, she was not sure that she was really face to face again with the bitter problem of self-sustenance. Anyhow, there was one change for the better. She knew that she had improved in appearance. Her manner had vastly changed. Her clothes were becoming, and men — well-dressed men, some of the kind who before had gazed at her indifferently from behind their polished railings and imposing office partitions — now gazed into her face with a soft light in their eyes. In a way, she felt the power and satisfaction of the thing, but it did not wholly reassure her. She looked for nothing save what might come legitimately and without the appearance of special favour. She wanted something, but no man should buy her by false protestations or favour. She proposed to earn her living honestly.

“This store closes at one on Saturdays,” was a pleasing and satisfactory legend to see upon doors which she felt she ought to enter and inquire for work. It gave her an excuse, and after encountering quite a number of them, and noting that the clock registered 12.15, she decided that it would be no use to seek further today, so she got on a car and went to Lincoln Park. There was always something to see there — the flowers, the animals, the lake — and she flattered herself that on Monday she would be up betimes and searching. Besides, many things might happen between now and Monday.

Sunday passed with equal doubts, worries, assurances, and heaven knows what vagaries of mind and spirit. Every half-hour in the day the thought would come to her most sharply, like the tail of a swishing whip, that action — immediate action — was imperative. At other times she would look about her and assure herself that things were not so bad — that certainly she would come out safe and sound. At such times she would think of Drouet’s advice about going on the stage, and saw some chance for herself in that quarter. She decided to take up that opportunity on the morrow.

Accordingly, she arose early Monday morning and dressed herself carefully. She did not know just how such applications were made, but she took it to be a matter which related more directly to the theatre buildings. All you had to do was to inquire of some one about the theatre for the manager and ask for a position. If there was anything, you might get it, or, at least, he could tell you how.

She had had no experience with this class of individuals whatsoever, and did not know the salacity and humour of the theatrical tribe. She only knew of the position which Mr. Hale occupied, but, of all things, she did not wish to encounter that personage, on account of her intimacy with his wife.

There was, however, at this time, one theatre, the Chicago Opera House, which was considerably in the public eye, and its manager, David A. Henderson, had a fair local reputation. Carrie had seen one or two elaborate performances there and had heard of several others. She knew nothing of Henderson nor of the methods of applying, but she instinctively felt that this would be a likely place, and accordingly strolled about in that neighbourhood. She came bravely enough to the showy entrance way, with the polished and begilded lobby, set with framed pictures out of the current attraction, leading up to the quiet box-office, but she could get no further. A noted comic opera comedian was holding forth that week, and the air of distinction and prosperity overawed her. She could not imagine that there would be anything in such a lofty sphere for her. She almost trembled at the audacity which might have carried her on to a terrible rebuff. She could find heart only to look at the pictures which were showy and then walk out. It seemed to her as if she had made a splendid escape and that it would be foolhardy to think of applying in that quarter again.

This little experience settled her hunting for one day. She looked around elsewhere, but it was from the outside. She got the location of several playhouses fixed in her mind — notably the Grand Opera House and McVickar’s, both of which were leading in attractions — and then came away. Her spirits were materially reduced, owing to the newly restored sense of magnitude of the great interests and the insignificance of her claims upon society, such as she understood them to be.

That night she was visited by Mrs. Hale, whose chatter and protracted stay made it impossible to dwell upon her predicament or the fortune of the day. Before retiring, however, she sat down to think, and gave herself up to the most gloomy forebodings. Drouet had not put in an appearance. She had had no word from any quarter, she had spent a dollar of her precious sum in procuring food and paying car fare. It was evident that she would not endure long. Besides, she had discovered no resource.

In this situation her thoughts went out to her sister in Van Buren Street, whom she had not seen since the night of her flight, and to her home at Columbia City, which seemed now a part of something that could not be again. She looked for no refuge in that direction. Nothing but sorrow was brought her by thoughts of Hurstwood, which would return. That he could have chosen to dupe her in so ready a manner seemed a cruel thing.

Tuesday came, and with it appropriate indecision and speculation. She was in no mood, after her failure of the day before, to hasten forth upon her work-seeking errand, and yet she rebuked herself for what she considered her weakness the day before. Accordingly she started out to revisit the Chicago Opera House, but possessed scarcely enough courage to approach.

She did manage to inquire at the box-office, however.

“Manager of the company or the house?” asked the smartly dressed individual who took care of the tickets. He was favourably impressed by Carrie’s looks.

“I don’t know,” said Carrie, taken back by the question.

“You couldn’t see the manager of the house today, anyhow,” volunteered the young man. “He’s out of town.”

He noted her puzzled look, and then added: “What is it you wish to see about?”

“I want to see about getting a position,” she answered.

“You’d better see the manager of the company,” he returned, “but he isn’t here now.”

“When will he be in?” asked Carrie, somewhat relieved by this information.

“Well, you might find him in between eleven and twelve. He’s here after two o’clock.”

Carrie thanked him and walked briskly out, while the young man gazed after her through one of the side windows of his gilded coop.

“Good-looking,” he said to himself, and proceeded to visions of condescensions on her part which were exceedingly flattering to himself.

One of the principal comedy companies of the day was playing an engagement at the Grand Opera House. Here Carrie asked to see the manager of the company. She little knew the trivial authority of this individual, or that had there been a vacancy an actor would have been sent on from New York to fill it.

“His office is upstairs,” said a man in the box-office.

Several persons were in the manager’s office, two lounging near a window, another talking to an individual sitting at a roll-top desk — the manager. Carrie glanced nervously about, and began to fear that she should have to make her appeal before the assembled company, two of whom — the occupants of the window — were already observing her carefully.

“I can’t do it,” the manager was saying; “it’s a rule of Mr. Frohman’s never to allow visitors back of the stage. No, no!”

Carrie timidly waited, standing. There were chairs, but no one motioned her to be seated. The individual to whom the manager had been talking went away quite crestfallen. That luminary gazed earnestly at some papers before him, as if they were of the greatest concern.

“Did you see that in the ‘Herald’ this morning about Nat Goodwin, Harris?”

“No,” said the person addressed. “What was it?” “Made quite a curtain address at Hooley’s last night. Better look it up.”

Harris reached over to a table and began to look for the “Herald.”

“What is it?” said the manager to Carrie, apparently noticing her for the first time. He thought he was going to be held up for free tickets.

Carrie summoned up all her courage, which was little at best. She realised that she was a novice, and felt as if a rebuff were certain. Of this she was so sure that she only wished now to pretend she had called for advice.

“Can you tell me how to go about getting on the stage?”

It was the best way after all to have gone about the matter. She was interesting, in a manner, to the occupant of the chair, and the simplicity of her request and attitude took his fancy. He smiled, as did the others in the room, who, however, made some slight effort to conceal their humour.

“I don’t know,” he answered, looking her brazenly over. “Have you ever had any experience upon the stage?”

“A little,” answered Carrie. “I have taken part in amateur performances.”

She thought she had to make some sort of showing in order to retain his interest.

“Never studied for the stage?” he said, putting on an air intended as much to impress his friends with his discretion as Carrie.

“No, sir.”

“Well, I don’t know,” he answered, tipping lazily back in his chair while she stood before him. “What makes you want to get on the stage?”

She felt abashed at the man’s daring, but could only smile in answer to his engaging smirk, and say:

“I need to make a living.”

“Oh,” he answered, rather taken by her trim appearance, and feeling as if he might scrape up an acquaintance with her. “That’s a good reason, isn’t it? Well, Chicago is not a good place for what you want to do. You ought to be in New York. There’s more chance there. You could hardly expect to get started out here.” Carrie smiled genially, grateful that he should condescend to advise her even so much. He noticed the smile, and put a slightly different construction on it. He thought he saw an easy chance for a little flirtation.

“Sit down,” he said, pulling a chair forward from the side of his desk and dropping his voice so that the two men in the room should not hear. Those two gave each other the suggestion of a wink.

“Well, I’ll be going, Barney,” said one, breaking away and so addressing the manager. “See you this afternoon.”

“All right,” said the manager.

The remaining individual took up a paper as if to read.

“Did you have any idea what sort of part you would like to get?” asked the manager softly.

“Oh, no,” said Carrie. “I would take anything to begin with.”

“I see,” he said. “Do you live here in the city?”

“Yes, sir.”

The manager smiled most blandly.

“Have you ever tried to get in as a chorus girl?” he asked, assuming a more confidential air.

Carrie began to feel that there was something exuberant and unnatural in his manner.

“No,” she said.

“That’s the way most girls begin,” he went on, “who go on the stage. It’s a good way to get experience.”

He was turning on her a glance of the companionable and persuasive manner.

“I didn’t know that,” said Carrie.

“It’s a difficult thing,” he went on, “but there’s always a chance, you know.” Then, as if he suddenly remembered, he pulled out his watch and consulted it. “I’ve an appointment at two,” he said, “and I’ve got to go to lunch now. Would you care to come and dine with me? We can talk it over there.”

“Oh, no,” said Carrie, the whole motive of the man flashing on her at once. “I have an engagement myself.”

“That’s too bad,” he said, realising that he had been a little beforehand in his offer and that Carrie was about to go away. “Come in later. I may know of something.”

“Thank you,” she answered, with some trepidation and went out.

“She was good-looking, wasn’t she?” said the manager’s companion, who had not caught all the details of the game he had played.

“Yes, in a way,” said the other, sore to think the game had been lost. “She’d never make an actress, though. Just another chorus girl — that’s all.”

This little experience nearly destroyed her ambition to call upon the manager at the Chicago Opera House, but she decided to do so after a time. He was of a more sedate turn of mind. He said at once that there was no opening of any sort, and seemed to consider her search foolish.

“Chicago is no place to get a start,” he said. “You ought to be in New York.”

Still she persisted, and went to McVickar’s, where she could not find any one. “The Old Homestead” was running there, but the person to whom she was referred was not to be found.

These little expeditions took up her time until quite four o’clock, when she was weary enough to go home. She felt as if she ought to continue and inquire elsewhere, but the results so far were too dispiriting. She took the car and arrived at Ogden Place in three-quarters of an hour, but decided to ride on to the West Side branch of the Post-office, where she was accustomed to receive Hurstwood’s letters. There was one there now, written Saturday, which she tore open and read with mingled feelings. There was so much warmth in it and such tense complaint at her having failed to meet him, and her subsequent silence, that she rather pitied the man. That he loved her was evident enough. That he had wished and dared to do so, married as he was, was the evil. She felt as if the thing deserved an answer, and consequently decided that she would write and let him know that she knew of his married state and was justly incensed at his deception. She would tell him that it was all over between them.

At her room, the wording of this missive occupied her for some time, for she fell to the task at once. It was most difficult.

“You do not need to have me explain why I did not meet you,” she wrote in part. “How could you deceive me so? You cannot expect me to have anything more to do with you. I wouldn’t under any circumstances. Oh, how could you act so?” she added in a burst of feeling. “You have caused me more misery than you can think. I hope you will get over your infatuation for me. We must not meet any more. Good-bye.”

She took the letter the next morning, and at the corner dropped it reluctantly into the letter-box, still uncertain as to whether she should do so or not. Then she took the car and went down town.

This was the dull season with the department stores, but she was listened to with more consideration than was usually accorded to young women applicants, owing to her neat and attractive appearance. She was asked the same old questions with which she was already familiar.

“What can you do? Have you ever worked in a retail store before? Are you experienced?”

At The Fair, See and Company’s, and all the great stores it was much the same. It was the dull season, she might come in a little later, possibly they would like to have her.

When she arrived at the house at the end of the day, weary and disheartened, she discovered that Drouet had been there. His umbrella and light overcoat were gone. She thought she missed other things, but could not be sure. Everything had not been taken.

So his going was crystallising into staying. What was she to do now? Evidently she would be facing the world in the same old way within a day or two. Her clothes would get poor. She put her two hands together in her customary expressive way and pressed her fingers. Large tears gathered in her eyes and broke hot across her cheeks. She was alone, very much alone.

Drouet really had called, but it was with a very different mind from that which Carrie had imagined. He expected to find her, to justify his return by claiming that he came to get the remaining portion of his wardrobe, and before he got away again to patch up a peace.

Accordingly, when he arrived, he was disappointed to find Carrie out. He trifled about, hoping that she was somewhere in the neighbourhood and would soon return. He constantly listened, expecting to hear her foot on the stair.

When he did so, it was his intention to make believe that he had just come in and was disturbed at being caught. Then he would explain his need of his clothes and find out how things stood.

Wait as he did, however, Carrie did not come. From pottering around among the drawers, in momentary expectation of her arrival he changed to looking out of the window, and from that to resting himself in the rocking-chair. Still no Carrie. He began to grow restless and lit a cigar. After that he walked the floor. Then he looked out of the window and saw clouds gathering. He remembered an appointment at three. He began to think that it would be useless to wait, and got hold of his umbrella and light coat, intending to take these things, any way. It would scare her, he hoped. To-morrow he would come back for the others. He would find out how things stood.

As he started to go he felt truly sorry that he had missed her. There was a little picture of her on the wall, showing her arrayed in the little jacket he had first bought her — her face a little more wistful than he had seen it lately. He was really touched by it, and looked into the eyes of it with a rather rare feeling for him.

“You didn’t do me right, Cad,” he said, as if he were addressing her in the flesh.

Then he went to the door, took a good look around and went out.

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