Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XXVII

When Waters Engulf Us We Reach for a Star

It was when he returned from his disturbed stroll about the streets, after receiving the decisive note from McGregor, James and Hay, that Hurstwood found the letter Carrie had written him that morning. He thrilled intensely as he noted the handwriting, and rapidly tore it open.

“Then,” he thought, “she loves me or she would not have written to me at all.”

He was slightly depressed at the tenor of the note for the first few minutes, but soon recovered. “She wouldn’t write at all if she didn’t care for me.”

This was his one resource against the depression which held him. He could extract little from the wording of the letter, but the spirit he thought he knew.

There was really something exceedingly human — if not pathetic — in his being thus relieved by a clearly worded reproof. He who had for so long remained satisfied with himself now looked outside of himself for comfort — and to such a source. The mystic cords of affection! How they bind us all.

The colour came to his cheeks. For the moment he forgot the letter from McGregor, James and Hay. If he could only have Carrie, perhaps he could get out of the whole entanglement — perhaps it would not matter. He wouldn’t care what his wife did with herself if only he might not lose Carrie. He stood up and walked about, dreaming his delightful dream of a life continued with this lovely possessor of his heart.

It was not long, however, before the old worry was back for consideration, and with it what weariness! He thought of the morrow and the suit. He had done nothing, and here was the afternoon slipping away. It was now a quarter of four. At five the attorneys would have gone home. He still had the morrow until noon. Even as he thought, the last fifteen minutes passed away and it was five. Then he abandoned the thought of seeing them any more that day and turned to Carrie.

It is to be observed that the man did not justify himself to himself. He was not troubling about that. His whole thought was the possibility of persuading Carrie. Nothing was wrong in that. He loved her dearly. Their mutual happiness depended upon it. Would that Drouet were only away!

While he was thinking thus elatedly, he remembered that he wanted some clean linen in the morning.

This he purchased, together with a half-dozen ties, and went to the Palmer House. As he entered he thought he saw Drouet ascending the stairs with a key. Surely not Drouet! Then he thought, perhaps they had changed their abode temporarily. He went straight up to the desk.

“Is Mr. Drouet stopping here?” he asked of the clerk.

“I think he is,” said the latter, consulting his private registry list. “Yes.”

“Is that so?” exclaimed Hurstwood, otherwise concealing his astonishment. “Alone?” he added.

“Yes,” said the clerk.

Hurstwood turned away and set his lips so as best to express and conceal his feelings.

“How’s that?” he thought. “They’ve had a row.”

He hastened to his room with rising spirits and changed his linen. As he did so, he made up his mind that if Carrie was alone, or if she had gone to another place, it behooved him to find out. He decided to call at once.

“I know what I’ll do,” he thought. “I’ll go to the door and ask if Mr. Drouet is at home. That will bring out whether he is there or not and where Carrie is.”

He was almost moved to some muscular display as he thought of it. He decided to go immediately after supper.

On coming down from his room at six, he looked carefully about to see if Drouet was present and then went out to lunch. He could scarcely eat, however, he was so anxious to be about his errand. Before starting he thought it well to discover where Drouet would be, and returned to his hotel.

“Has Mr. Drouet gone out?” he asked of the clerk.

“No,” answered the latter, “he’s in his room. Do you wish to send up a card?” “No, I’ll call around later,” answered Hurstwood, and strolled out.

He took a Madison car and went direct to Ogden Place this time walking boldly up to the door. The chambermaid answered his knock.

“Is Mr. Drouet in?” said Hurstwood blandly.

“He is out of the city,” said the girl, who had heard Carrie tell this to Mrs. Hale.

“Is Mrs. Drouet in?”

“No, she has gone to the theatre.”

“Is that so?” said Hurstwood, considerably taken back; then, as if burdened with something important, “You don’t know to which theatre?”

The girl really had no idea where she had gone, but not liking Hurstwood, and wishing to cause him trouble, answered: “Yes, Hooley’s.”

“Thank you,” returned the manager, and, tipping his hat slightly, went away.

“I’ll look in at Hooley’s,” thought he, but as a matter of fact he did not. Before he had reached the central portion of the city he thought the whole matter over and decided it would be useless. As much as he longed to see Carrie, he knew she would be with some one and did not wish to intrude with his plea there. A little later he might do so — in the morning. Only in the morning he had the lawyer question before him.

This little pilgrimage threw quite a wet blanket upon his rising spirits. He was soon down again to his old worry, and reached the resort anxious to find relief. Quite a company of gentlemen were making the place lively with their conversation. A group of Cook County politicians were conferring about a round cherry-wood table in the rear portion of the room. Several young merrymakers were chattering at the bar before making a belated visit to the theatre. A shabbily-genteel individual, with a red nose and an old high hat, was sipping a quiet glass of ale alone at one end of the bar. Hurstwood nodded to the politicians and went into his office.

About ten o’clock a friend of his, Mr. Frank L. Taintor, a local sport and racing man, dropped in, and seeing Hurstwood alone in his office came to the door.

“Hello, George!” he exclaimed.

“How are you, Frank?” said Hurstwood, somewhat relieved by the sight of him. “Sit down,” and he motioned him to one of the chairs in the little room.

“What’s the matter, George?” asked Taintor. “You look a little glum. Haven’t lost at the track, have you?”

“I’m not feeling very well to-night. I had a slight cold the other day.”

“Take whiskey, George,” said Taintor. “You ought to know that.”

Hurstwood smiled.

While they were still conferring there, several other of Hurstwood’s friends entered, and not long after eleven, the theatres being out, some actors began to drop in-among them some notabilities.

Then began one of those pointless social conversations so common in American resorts where the would-be gilded attempt to rub off gilt from those who have it in abundance. If Hurstwood had one leaning, it was toward notabilities. He considered that, if anywhere, he belonged among them. He was too proud to toady, too keen not to strictly observe the plane he occupied when there were those present who did not appreciate him, but, in situations like the present, where he could shine as a gentleman and be received without equivocation as a friend and equal among men of known ability, he was most delighted. It was on such occasions, if ever, that he would “take something.” When the social flavour was strong enough he would even unbend to the extent of drinking glass for glass with his associates, punctiliously observing his turn to pay as if he were an outsider like the others. If he ever approached intoxication — or rather that ruddy warmth and comfortableness which precedes the more sloven state — it was when individuals such as these were gathered about him, when he was one of a circle of chatting celebrities. To-night, disturbed as was his state, he was rather relieved to find company, and now that notabilities were gathered, he laid aside his troubles for the nonce, and joined in right heartily.

It was not long before the imbibing began to tell. Stories began to crop up — those ever-enduring, droll stories which form the major portion of the conversation among American men under such circumstances.

Twelve o’clock arrived, the hour for closing, and with it the company took leave. Hurstwood shook hands with them most cordially. He was very roseate physically. He had arrived at that state where his mind, though clear, was, nevertheless, warm in its fancies. He felt as if his troubles were not very serious. Going into his office, he began to turn over certain accounts, awaiting the departure of the bartenders and the cashier, who soon left.

It was the manager’s duty, as well as his custom, after all were gone to see that everything was safely closed up for the night. As a rule, no money except the cash taken in after banking hours was kept about the place, and that was locked in the safe by the cashier, who, with the owners, was joint keeper of the secret combination, but, nevertheless, Hurstwood nightly took the precaution to try the cash drawers and the safe in order to see that they were tightly closed. Then he would lock his own little office and set the proper light burning near the safe, after which he would take his departure.

Never in his experience had he found anything out of order, but to-night, after shutting down his desk, he came out and tried the safe. His way was to give a sharp pull. This time the door responded. He was slightly surprised at that, and looking in found the money cases as left for the day, apparently unprotected. His first thought was, of course, to inspect the drawers and shut the door.

“I’ll speak to Mayhew about this tomorrow,” he thought.

The latter had certainly imagined upon going out a half-hour before that he had turned the knob on the door so as to spring the lock. He had never failed to do so before. But to-night Mayhew had other thoughts. He had been revolving the problem of a business of his own.

“I’ll look in here,” thought the manager, pulling out the money drawers. He did not know why he wished to look in there. It was quite a superfluous action, which another time might not have happened at all.

As he did so, a layer of bills, in parcels of a thousand, such as banks issue, caught his eye. He could not tell how much they represented, but paused to view them. Then he pulled out the second of the cash drawers. In that were the receipts of the day.

“I didn’t know Fitzgerald and Moy ever left any money this way,” his mind said to itself. “They must have forgotten it.”

He looked at the other drawer and paused again.

“Count them,” said a voice in his ear.

He put his hand into the first of the boxes and lifted the stack, letting the separate parcels fall. They were bills of fifty and one hundred dollars done in packages of a thousand. He thought he counted ten such.

“Why don’t I shut the safe?” his mind said to itself, lingering. “What makes me pause here?”

For answer there came the strangest words:

“Did you ever have ten thousand dollars in ready money?”

Lo, the manager remembered that he had never had so much. All his property had been slowly accumulated, and now his wife owned that. He was worth more than forty thousand, all told — but she would get that.

He puzzled as he thought of these things, then pushed in the drawers and closed the door, pausing with his hand upon the knob, which might so easily lock it all beyond temptation. Still he paused. Finally he went to the windows and pulled down the curtains. Then he tried the door, which he had previously locked. What was this thing, making him suspicious? Why did he wish to move about so quietly. He came back to the end of the counter as if to rest his arm and think. Then he went and unlocked his little office door and turned on the light. He also opened his desk, sitting down before it, only to think strange thoughts.

“The safe is open,” said a voice. “There is just the least little crack in it. The lock has not been sprung.”

The manager floundered among a jumble of thoughts. Now all the entanglement of the day came back. Also the thought that here was a solution. That money would do it. If he had that and Carrie. He rose up and stood stock-still, looking at the floor.

“What about it?” his mind asked, and for answer he put his hand slowly up and scratched his head.

The manager was no fool to be led blindly away by such an errant proposition as this, but his situation was peculiar. Wine was in his veins. It had crept up into his head and given him a warm view of the situation. It also coloured the possibilities of ten thousand for him. He could see great opportunities with that. He could get Carrie. Oh, yes, he could! He could get rid of his wife. That letter, too, was waiting discussion tomorrow morning. He would not need to answer that. He went back to the safe and put his hand on the knob. Then he pulled the door open and took the drawer with the money quite out.

With it once out and before him, it seemed a foolish thing to think about leaving it. Certainly it would. Why, he could live quietly with Carrie for years.

Lord! what was that? For the first time he was tense, as if a stern hand had been laid upon his shoulder. He looked fearfully around. Not a soul was present. Not a sound. Some one was shuffling by on the sidewalk. He took the box and the money and put it back in the safe. Then he partly closed the door again.

To those who have never wavered in conscience, the predicament of the individual whose mind is less strongly constituted and who trembles in the balance between duty and desire is scarcely appreciable, unless graphically portrayed. Those who have never heard that solemn voice of the ghostly clock which ticks with awful distinctness, “thou shalt,” “thou shalt not,” “thou shalt,” “thou shalt not,” are in no position to judge. Not alone in sensitive, highly organised natures is such a mental conflict possible. The dullest specimen of humanity, when drawn by desire toward evil, is recalled by a sense of right, which is proportionate in power and strength to his evil tendency. We must remember that it may not be a knowledge of right, for no knowledge of right is predicated of the animal’s instinctive recoil at evil. Men are still led by instinct before they are regulated by knowledge. It is instinct which recalls the criminal — it is instinct (where highly organised reasoning is absent) which gives the criminal his feeling of danger, his fear of wrong.

At every first adventure, then, into some untried evil, the mind wavers. The clock of thought ticks out its wish and its denial. To those who have never experienced such a mental dilemma, the following will appeal on the simple ground of revelation.

When Hurstwood put the money back, his nature again resumed its ease and daring. No one had observed him. He was quite alone. No one could tell what he wished to do. He could work this thing out for himself.

The imbibation of the evening had not yet worn off. Moist as was his brow, tremble as did his hand once after the nameless fright, he was still flushed with the fumes of liquor. He scarcely noticed that the time was passing. He went over his situation once again, his eye always seeing the money in a lump, his mind always seeing what it would do. He strolled into his little room, then to the door, then to the safe again. He put his hand on the knob and opened it. There was the money! Surely no harm could come from looking at it!

He took out the drawer again and lifted the bills. They were so smooth, so compact, so portable. How little they made, after all. He decided he would take them. Yes, he would. He would put them in his pocket. Then he looked at that and saw they would not go there. His hand satchel! To be sure, his hand satchel. They would go in that — all of it would. No one would think anything of it either. He went into the little office and took it from the shelf in the corner. Now he set it upon his desk and went out toward the safe. For some reason he did not want to fill it out in the big room. First he brought the bills and then the loose receipts of the day. He would take it all. He put the empty drawers back and pushed the iron door almost to, then stood beside it meditating.

The wavering of a mind under such circumstances is an almost inexplicable thing, and yet it is absolutely true. Hurstwood could not bring himself to act definitely. He wanted to think about it — to ponder over it, to decide whether it were best. He was drawn by such a keen desire for Carrie, driven by such a state of turmoil in his own affairs that he thought constantly it would be best, and yet he wavered. He did not know what evil might result from it to him — how soon he might come to grief. The true ethics of the situation never once occurred to him, and never would have, under any circumstances.

After he had all the money in the handbag, a revulsion of feeling seized him. He would not do it — no! Think of what a scandal it would make. The police! They would be after him. He would have to fly, and where? Oh, the terror of being a fugitive from justice! He took out the two boxes and put all the money back. In his excitement he forgot what he was doing, and put the sums in the wrong boxes. As he pushed the door to, he thought he remembered doing it wrong and opened the door again. There were the two boxes mixed.

He took them out and straightened the matter, but now the terror had gone. Why be afraid?

While the money was in his hand the lock clicked. It had sprung! Did he do it? He grabbed at the knob and pulled vigorously. It had closed. Heavens! he was in for it now, sure enough.

The moment he realised that the safe was locked for a surety, the sweat burst out upon his brow and he trembled violently. He looked about him and decided instantly. There was no delaying now.

“Supposing I do lay it on the top,” he said, “and go away, they’ll know who took it. I’m the last to close up. Besides, other things will happen.”

At once he became the man of action.

“I must get out of this,” he thought.

He hurried into his little room, took down his light overcoat and hat, locked his desk, and grabbed the satchel. Then he turned out all but one light and opened the door. He tried to put on his old assured air, but it was almost gone. He was repenting rapidly.

“I wish I hadn’t done that,” he said. “That was a mistake.”

He walked steadily down the street, greeting a night watchman whom he knew who was trying doors. He must get out of the city, and that quickly.

“I wonder how the trains run?” he thought.

Instantly he pulled out his watch and looked. It was nearly half-past one.

At the first drugstore he stopped, seeing a long-distance telephone booth inside. It was a famous drugstore, and contained one of the first private telephone booths ever erected. “I want to use your ‘phone a minute,” he said to the night clerk.

The latter nodded.

“Give me 1643,” he called to Central, after looking up the Michigan Central depot number. Soon he got the ticket agent.

“How do the trains leave here for Detroit?” he asked.

The man explained the hours.

“No more to-night?”

“Nothing with a sleeper. Yes, there is, too,” he added. “There is a mail train out of here at three o’clock.”

“All right,” said Hurstwood. “What time does that get to Detroit?”

He was thinking if he could only get there and cross the river into Canada, he could take his time about getting to Montreal. He was relieved to learn that it would reach there by noon.

“Mayhew won’t open the safe till nine,” he thought. “They can’t get on my track before noon.”

Then he thought of Carrie. With what speed must he get her, if he got her at all. She would have to come along. He jumped into the nearest cab standing by.

“To Ogden Place,” he said sharply. “I’ll give you a dollar more if you make good time.”

The cabby beat his horse into a sort of imitation gallop which was fairly fast, however. On the way Hurstwood thought what to do. Reaching the number, he hurried up the steps and did not spare the bell in waking the servant.

“Is Mrs. Drouet in?” he asked.

“Yes,” said the astonished girl.

“Tell her to dress and come to the door at once. Her husband is in the hospital, injured, and wants to see her.”

The servant girl hurried upstairs, convinced by the man’s strained and emphatic manner.

“What!” said Carrie, lighting the gas and searching for her clothes.

“Mr. Drouet is hurt and in the hospital. He wants to see you. The cab’s downstairs.”

Carrie dressed very rapidly, and soon appeared below, forgetting everything save the necessities.

“Drouet is hurt,” said Hurstwood quickly. “He wants to see you. Come quickly.”

Carrie was so bewildered that she swallowed the whole story.

“Get in,” said Hurstwood, helping her and jumping after.

The cabby began to turn the horse around. “Michigan Central depot,” he said, standing up and speaking so low that Carrie could not hear, “as fast as you can go.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dreiser/theodore/sister/chapter27.html

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