Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XXXVIII

In Elf Land Disporting — The Grim World Without

When Carrie renewed her search, as she did the next day, going to the Casino, she found that in the opera chorus, as in other fields, employment is difficult to secure. Girls who can stand in a line and look pretty are as numerous as labourers who can swing a pick. She found there was no discrimination between one and the other of applicants, save as regards a conventional standard of prettiness and form. Their own opinion or knowledge of their ability went for nothing.

“Where shall I find Mr. Gray?” she asked of a sulky doorman at the stage entrance of the Casino.

“You can’t see him now; he’s busy.”

“Do you know when I can see him?”

“Got an appointment with him?”

“No.”

“Well, you’ll have to call at his office.”

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed Carrie. “Where is his office?”

He gave her the number.

She knew there was no need of calling there now. He would not be in. Nothing remained but to employ the intermediate hours in search.

The dismal story of ventures in other places is quickly told. Mr. Daly saw no one save by appointment. Carrie waited an hour in a dingy office, quite in spite of obstacles, to learn this fact of the placid, indifferent Mr. Dorney.

“You will have to write and ask him to see you.”

So she went away.

At the Empire Theatre she found a hive of peculiarly listless and indifferent individuals. Everything ornately upholstered, everything carefully finished, everything remarkably reserved.

At the Lyceum she entered one of those secluded, under-stairway closets, berugged and bepaneled, which causes one to feel the greatness of all positions of authority. Here was reserve itself done into a box-office clerk, a doorman, and an assistant, glorying in their fine positions.

“Ah, be very humble now — very humble indeed. Tell us what it is you require. Tell it quickly, nervously, and without a vestige of self-respect. If no trouble to us in any way, we may see what we can do.”

This was the atmosphere of the Lyceum — the attitude, for that matter, of every managerial office in the city. These little proprietors of businesses are lords indeed on their own ground.

Carrie came away wearily, somewhat more abashed for her pains.

Hurstwood heard the details of the weary and unavailing search that evening.

“I didn’t get to see any one,” said Carrie. “I just walked, and walked, and waited around.”

Hurstwood only looked at her.

“I suppose you have to have some friends before you can get in,” she added, disconsolately.

Hurstwood saw the difficulty of this thing, and yet it did not seem so terrible. Carrie was tired and dispirited, but now she could rest. Viewing the world from his rocking-chair, its bitterness did not seem to approach so rapidly. To-morrow was another day.

To-morrow came, and the next, and the next.

Carrie saw the manager at the Casino once.

“Come around,” he said, “the first of next week. I may make some changes then.”

He was a large and corpulent individual, surfeited with good clothes and good eating, who judged women as another would horseflesh. Carrie was pretty and graceful. She might be put in even if she did not have any experience. One of the proprietors had suggested that the chorus was a little weak on looks.

The first of next week was some days off yet. The first of the month was drawing near. Carrie began to worry as she had never worried before.

“Do you really look for anything when you go out?” she asked Hurstwood one morning as a climax to some painful thoughts of her own.

“Of course I do,” he said pettishly, troubling only a little over the disgrace of the insinuation.

“I’d take anything,” she said, “for the present. It will soon be the first of the month again.”

She looked the picture of despair.

Hurstwood quit reading his paper and changed his clothes.

“He would look for something,” he thought. “He would go and see if some brewery couldn’t get him in somewhere. Yes, he would take a position as bartender, if he could get it.”

It was the same sort of pilgrimage he had made before. One or two slight rebuffs, and the bravado disappeared.

“No use,” he thought. “I might as well go on back home.”

Now that his money was so low, he began to observe his clothes and feel that even his best ones were beginning to look commonplace. This was a bitter thought.

Carrie came in after he did.

“I went to see some of the variety managers,” she said, aimlessly. “You have to have an act. They don’t want anybody that hasn’t.”

“I saw some of the brewery people today,” said Hurstwood. “One man told me he’d try to make a place for me in two or three weeks.”

In the face of so much distress on Carrie’s part, he had to make some showing, and it was thus he did so. It was lassitude’s apology to energy.

Monday Carrie went again to the Casino.

“Did I tell you to come around to day?” said the manager, looking her over as she stood before him.

“You said the first of the week,” said Carrie, greatly abashed.

“Ever had any experience?” he asked again, almost severely.

Carrie owned to ignorance.

He looked her over again as he stirred among some papers. He was secretly pleased with this pretty, disturbed-looking young woman. “Come around to the theatre tomorrow morning.”

Carrie’s heart bounded to her throat.

“I will,” she said with difficulty. She could see he wanted her, and turned to go.

“Would he really put her to work? Oh, blessed fortune, could it be?”

Already the hard rumble of the city through the open windows became pleasant.

A sharp voice answered her mental interrogation, driving away all immediate fears on that score.

“Be sure you’re there promptly,” the manager said roughly. “You’ll be dropped if you’re not.”

Carrie hastened away. She did not quarrel now with Hurstwood’s idleness. She had a place — she had a place! This sang in her ears.

In her delight she was almost anxious to tell Hurstwood. But, as she walked homeward, and her survey of the facts of the case became larger, she began to think of the anomaly of her finding work in several weeks and his lounging in idleness for a number of months.

“Why don’t he get something?” she openly said to herself. “If I can he surely ought to. It wasn’t very hard for me.”

She forgot her youth and her beauty. The handicap of age she did not, in her enthusiasm, perceive.

Thus, ever, the voice of success. Still, she could not keep her secret. She tried to be calm and indifferent, but it was a palpable sham.

“Well?” he said, seeing her relieved face.

“I have a place.”

“You have?” he said, breathing a better breath.

“Yes.”

“What sort of a place is it?” he asked, feeling in his veins as if now he might get something good also.

“In the chorus,” she answered.

“Is it the Casino show you told me about?”

“Yes,” she answered. “I begin rehearsing tomorrow.”

There was more explanation volunteered by Carrie, because she was happy. At last Hurstwood said:

“Do you know how much you’ll get?”

“No, I didn’t want to ask,” said Carrie. “I guess they pay twelve or fourteen dollars a week.”

“About that, I guess,” said Hurstwood.

There was a good dinner in the flat that evening, owing to the mere lifting of the terrible strain. Hurstwood went out for a shave, and returned with a fair-sized sirloin steak.

“Now, tomorrow,” he thought, “I’ll look around myself,” and with renewed hope he lifted his eyes from the ground.

On the morrow Carrie reported promptly and was given a place in the line. She saw a large, empty, shadowy play-house, still redolent of the perfumes and blazonry of the night, and notable for its rich, oriental appearance. The wonder of it awed and delighted her. Blessed be its wondrous reality. How hard she would try to be worthy of it. It was above the common mass, above idleness, above want, above insignificance. People came to it in finery and carriages to see. It was ever a centre of light and mirth. And here she was of it. Oh, if she could only remain, how happy would be her days!

“What is your name?” said the manager, who was conducting the drill.

“Madenda,” she replied, instantly mindful of the name Drouet had selected in Chicago. “Carrie Madenda.”

“Well, now, Miss Madenda,” he said, very affably, as Carrie thought, “you go over there.”

Then he called to a young woman who was already of the company:

“Miss Clark, you pair with Miss Madenda.”

This young lady stepped forward, so that Carrie saw where to go, and the rehearsal began.

Carrie soon found that while this drilling had some slight resemblance to the rehearsals as conducted at Avery Hall, the attitude of the manager was much more pronounced. She had marvelled at the insistence and superior airs of Mr. Millice, but the individual conducting here had the same insistence, coupled with almost brutal roughness. As the drilling proceeded, he seemed to wax exceedingly wroth over trifles, and to increase his lung power in proportion. It was very evident that he had a great contempt for any assumption of dignity or innocence on the part of these young women.

“Clark,” he would call — meaning, of course, Miss Clark — “why don’t you catch step there?”

“By fours, right! Right, I said, right! For heaven’s sake, get on to yourself! Right!” and in saying this he would lift the last sounds into a vehement roar.

“Maitland! Maitland!” he called once.

A nervous, comely-dressed little girl stepped out. Carrie trembled for her out of the fulness of her own sympathies and fear.

“Yes, sir,” said Miss Maitland.

“Is there anything the matter with your ears?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you know what ‘column left’ means?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, what are you stumbling around the right for? Want to break up the line?”

“I was just”

“Never mind what you were just. Keep your ears open.”

Carrie pitied, and trembled for her turn.

Yet another suffered the pain of personal rebuke.

“Hold on a minute,” cried the manager, throwing up his hands, as if in despair. His demeanour was fierce.

“Elvers,” he shouted, “what have you got in your mouth?”

“Nothing,” said Miss Elvers, while some smiled and stood nervously by.

“Well, are you talking?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, keep your mouth still then. Now, all together again.”

At last Carrie’s turn came. It was because of her extreme anxiety to do all that was required that brought on the trouble.

She heard some one called.

“Mason,” said the voice. “Miss Mason.”

She looked around to see who it could be. A girl behind shoved her a little, but she did not understand.

“You, you!” said the manager. “Can’t you hear?”

“Oh,” said Carrie, collapsing, and blushing fiercely.

“Isn’t your name Mason?” asked the manager.

“No, sir,” said Carrie, “it’s Madenda.”

“Well, what’s the matter with your feet? Can’t you dance?”

“Yes, sir,” said Carrie, who had long since learned this art.

“Why don’t you do it then? Don’t go shuffling along as if you were dead. I’ve got to have people with life in them.”

Carrie’s cheek burned with a crimson heat. Her lips trembled a little.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

It was this constant urging, coupled with irascibility and energy, for three long hours. Carrie came away worn enough in body, but too excited in mind to notice it. She meant to go home and practise her evolutions as prescribed. She would not err in any way, if she could help it.

When she reached the flat Hurstwood was not there. For a wonder he was out looking for work, as she supposed. She took only a mouthful to eat and then practised on, sustained by visions of freedom from financial distress — “The sound of glory ringing in her ears.”

When Hurstwood returned he was not so elated as when he went away, and now she was obliged to drop practice and get dinner. Here was an early irritation. She would have her work and this. Was she going to act and keep house?

“I’ll not do it,” she said, “after I get started. He can take his meals out.”

Each day thereafter brought its cares. She found it was not such a wonderful thing to be in the chorus, and she also learned that her salary would be twelve dollars a week. After a few days she had her first sight of those high and mighties — the leading ladies and gentlemen. She saw that they were privileged and deferred to. She was nothing — absolutely nothing at all.

At home was Hurstwood, daily giving her cause for thought. He seemed to get nothing to do, and yet he made bold to inquire how she was getting along. The regularity with which he did this smacked of some one who was waiting to live upon her labour. Now that she had a visible means of support, this irritated her. He seemed to be depending upon her little twelve dollars.

“How are you getting along?” he would blandly inquire.

“Oh, all right,” she would reply.

“Find it easy?”

“It will be all right when I get used to it.”

His paper would then engross his thoughts.

“I got some lard,” he would add, as an afterthought. “I thought maybe you might want to make some biscuit.”

The calm suggestion of the man astonished her a little, especially in the light of recent developments. Her dawning independence gave her more courage to observe, and she felt as if she wanted to say things. Still she could not talk to him as she had to Drouet. There was something in the man’s manner of which she had always stood in awe. He seemed to have some invisible strength in reserve.

One day, after her first week’s rehearsal, what she expected came openly to the surface.

“We’ll have to be rather saving,” he said, laying down some meat he had purchased. “You won’t get any money for a week or so yet.”

“No,” said Carrie, who was stirring a pan at the stove.

“I’ve only got the rent and thirteen dollars more,” he added.

“That’s it,” she said to herself. “I’m to use my money now.”

Instantly she remembered that she had hoped to buy a few things for herself. She needed clothes. Her hat was not nice.

“What will twelve dollars do towards keeping up this flat?” she thought. “I can’t do it. Why doesn’t he get something to do?”

The important night of the first real performance came. She did not suggest to Hurstwood that he come and see. He did not think of going. It would only be money wasted. She had such a small part.

The advertisements were already in the papers; the posters upon the bill-boards. The leading lady and many members were cited. Carrie was nothing.

As in Chicago, she was seized with stage fright as the very first entrance of the ballet approached, but later she recovered. The apparent and painful insignificance of the part took fear away from her. She felt that she was so obscure it did not matter. Fortunately, she did not have to wear tights. A group of twelve were assigned pretty golden-hued skirts which came only to a line about an inch above the knee. Carrie happened to be one of the twelve.

In standing about the stage, marching, and occasionally lifting up her voice in the general chorus, she had a chance to observe the audience and to see the inauguration of a great hit. There was plenty of applause, but she could not help noting how poorly some of the women of alleged ability did.

“I could do better than that,” Carrie ventured to herself, in several instances. To do her justice, she was right.

After it was over she dressed quickly, and as the manager had scolded some others and passed her, she imagined she must have proved satisfactory. She wanted to get out quickly, because she knew but few, and the stars were gossiping. Outside were carriages and some correct youths in attractive clothing, waiting. Carrie saw that she was scanned closely. The flutter of an eyelash would have brought her a companion. That she did not give.

One experienced youth volunteered, anyhow.

“Not going home alone, are you?” he said.

Carrie merely hastened her steps and took the Sixth Avenue car. Her head was so full of the wonder of it that she had time for nothing else.

“Did you hear any more from the brewery?” she asked at the end of the week, hoping by the question to stir him on to action.

“No,” he answered, “they’re not quite ready yet. I think something will come of that, though.”

She said nothing more then, objecting to giving up her own money, and yet feeling that such would have to be the case. Hurstwood felt the crisis, and artfully decided to appeal to Carrie. He had long since realised how good-natured she was, how much she would stand. There was some little shame in him at the thought of doing so, but he justified himself with the thought that he really would get something. Rent day gave him his opportunity.

“Well,” he said, as he counted it out, “that’s about the last of my money. I’ll have to get something pretty soon.”

Carrie looked at him askance, half-suspicious of an appeal.

“If I could only hold out a little longer I think I could get something. Drake is sure to open a hotel here in September.”

“Is he?” said Carrie, thinking of the short month that still remained until that time.

“Would you mind helping me out until then?” he said appealingly. “I think I’ll be all right after that time.”

“No,” said Carrie, feeling sadly handicapped by fate.

“We can get along if we economise. I’ll pay you back all right.”

“Oh, I’ll help you,” said Carrie, feeling quite hardhearted at thus forcing him to humbly appeal, and yet her desire for the benefit of her earnings wrung a faint protest from her.

“Why don’t you take anything, George, temporarily?” she said. “What difference does it make? Maybe, after a while, you’ll get something better.”

“I will take anything,” he said, relieved, and wincing under reproof. “I’d just as leave dig on the streets. Nobody knows me here.”

“Oh, you needn’t do that,” said Carrie, hurt by the pity of it. “But there must be other things.”

“I’ll get something!” he said, assuming determination.

Then he went back to his paper.

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