Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XL

A Public Dissension — A Final Appeal

There was no after-theatre lark, however, so far as Carrie was concerned. She made her way homeward, thinking about her absence. Hurstwood was asleep, but roused up to look as she passed through to her own bed.

“Is that you?” he said.

“Yes,” she answered.

The next morning at breakfast she felt like apologising.

“I couldn’t get home last evening,” she said.

“Ah, Carrie,” he answered, “what’s the use saying that? I don’t care. You needn’t tell me that, though.”

“I couldn’t,” said Carrie, her colour rising. Then, seeing that he looked as if he said “I know,” she exclaimed: “Oh, all right. I don’t care.”

From now on, her indifference to the flat was even greater. There seemed no common ground on which they could talk to one another. She let herself be asked for expenses. It became so with him that he hated to do it. He preferred standing off the butcher and baker. He ran up a grocery bill of sixteen dollars with Oeslogge, laying in a supply of staple articles, so that they would not have to buy any of those things for some time to come. Then he changed his grocery. It was the same with the butcher and several others. Carrie never heard anything of this directly from him. He asked for such as he could expect, drifting farther and farther into a situation which could have but one ending.

In this fashion, September went by.

“Isn’t Mr. Drake going to open his hotel?” Carrie asked several times.

“Yes. He won’t do it before October, though, now.”

Carrie became disgusted. “Such a man,” she said to herself frequently. More and more she visited. She put most of her spare money in clothes, which, after all, was not an astonishing amount. At last the opera she was with announced its departure within four weeks. “Last two weeks of the Great Comic Opera success — The — — ” etc., was upon all billboards and in the newspapers, before she acted.

“I’m not going out on the road,” said Miss Osborne.

Carrie went with her to apply to another manager.

“Ever had any experience?” was one of his questions.

“I’m with the company at the Casino now.”

“Oh, you are?” he said.

The end of this was another engagement at twenty per week.

Carrie was delighted. She began to feel that she had a place in the world. People recognised ability.

So changed was her state that the home atmosphere became intolerable. It was all poverty and trouble there, or seemed to be, because it was a load to bear. It became a place to keep away from. Still she slept there, and did a fair amount of work, keeping it in order. It was a sitting place for Hurstwood. He sat and rocked, rocked and read, enveloped in the gloom of his own fate. October went by, and November. It was the dead of winter almost before he knew it, and there he sat.

Carrie was doing better, that he knew. Her clothes were improved now, even fine. He saw her coming and going, sometimes picturing to himself her rise. Little eating had thinned him somewhat. He had no appetite. His clothes, too, were a poor man’s clothes. Talk about getting something had become even too threadbare and ridiculous for him. So he folded his hands and waited — for what, he could not anticipate.

At last, however, troubles became too thick. The hounding of creditors, the indifference of Carrie, the silence of the flat, and presence of winter, all joined to produce a climax. It was effected by the arrival of Oeslogge, personally, when Carrie was there.

“I call about my bill,” said Mr. Oeslogge.

Carrie was only faintly surprised.

“How much is it?” she asked.

“Sixteen dollars,” he replied.

“Oh, that much?” said Carrie. “Is this right?” she asked, turning to Hurstwood.

“Yes,” he said.

“Well, I never heard anything about it.”

She looked as if she thought he had been contracting some needless expense.

“Well, we had it all right,” he answered. Then he went to the door. “I can’t pay you anything on that today,” he said, mildly.

“Well, when can you?” said the grocer.

“Not before Saturday, anyhow,” said Hurstwood.

“Huh!” returned the grocer. “This is fine. I must have that. I need the money.”

Carrie was standing farther back in the room, hearing it all. She was greatly distressed. It was so bad and commonplace. Hurstwood was annoyed also.

“Well,” he said, “there’s no use talking about it now. If you’ll come in Saturday, I’ll pay you something on it.”

The grocery man went away.

“How are we going to pay it?” asked Carrie, astonished by the bill. “I can’t do it.”

“Well, you don’t have to,” he said. “He can’t get what he can’t get. He’ll have to wait.”

“I don’t see how we ran up such a bill as that,” said Carrie.

“Well, we ate it,” said Hurstwood.

“It’s funny,” she replied, still doubting.

“What’s the use of your standing there and talking like that, now?” he asked. “Do you think I’ve had it alone? You talk as if I’d taken something.”

“Well, it’s too much, anyhow,” said Carrie. “I oughtn’t to be made to pay for it. I’ve got more than I can pay for now.”

“All right,” replied Hurstwood, sitting down in silence. He was sick of the grind of this thing.

Carrie went out and there he sat, determining to do something.

There had been appearing in the papers about this time rumours and notices of an approaching strike on the trolley lines in Brooklyn. There was general dissatisfaction as to the hours of labour required and the wages paid. As usual — and for some inexplicable reason — the men chose the winter for the forcing of the hand of their employers and the settlement of their difficulties.

Hurstwood had been reading of this thing, and wondering concerning the huge tie-up which would follow. A day or two before this trouble with Carrie, it came. On a cold afternoon, when everything was grey and it threatened to snow, the papers announced that the men had been called out on all the lines. Being so utterly idle, and his mind filled with the numerous predictions which had been made concerning the scarcity of labour this winter and the panicky state of the financial market, Hurstwood read this with interest. He noted the claims of the striking motormen and conductors, who said that they had been wont to receive two dollars a day in times past, but that for a year or more “trippers” had been introduced, which cut down their chance of livelihood one-half, and increased their hours of servitude from ten to twelve, and even fourteen. These “trippers” were men put on during the busy and rush hours, to take a car out for one trip. The compensation paid for such a trip was only twenty-five cents. When the rush or busy hours were over, they were laid off. Worst of all, no man might know when he was going to get a car. He must come to the barns in the morning and wait around in fair and foul weather until such time as he was needed. Two trips were an average reward for so much waiting — a little over three hours’ work for fifty cents. The work of waiting was not counted.

The men complained that this system was extending, and that the time was not far off when but a few out of 7,000 employees would have regular two-dollar-a-day work at all. They demanded that the system be abolished, and that ten hours be considered a day’s work, barring unavoidable delays, with $2.25 pay. They demanded immediate acceptance of these terms, which the various trolley companies refused.

Hurstwood at first sympathised with the demands of these men — indeed, it is a question whether he did not always sympathise with them to the end, belie him as his actions might. Reading nearly all the news, he was attracted first by the scare-heads with which the trouble was noted in the “World.” He read it fully — the names of the seven companies involved, the number of men.

“They’re foolish to strike in this sort of weather,” he thought to himself. “Let ’em win if they can, though.”

The next day there was even a larger notice of it. “Brooklynites Walk,” said the “World.” “Knights of Labour Tie up the Trolley Lines Across the Bridge.” “About Seven Thousand Men Out.”

Hurstwood read this, formulating to himself his own idea of what would be the outcome. He was a great believer in the strength of corporations.

“They can’t win,” he said, concerning the men. “They haven’t any money. The police will protect the companies. They’ve got to. The public has to have its cars.”

He didn’t sympathise with the corporations, but strength was with them. So was property and public utility.

“Those fellows can’t win,” he thought.

Among other things, he noticed a circular issued by one of the companies, which read:

ATLANTIC AVENUE RAILROAD

SPECIAL NOTICE

The motormen and conductors and other employees of this company having abruptly left its service, an opportunity is now given to all loyal men who have struck against their will to be reinstated, providing they will make their applications by twelve o’clock noon on Wednesday, January 16th. Such men will be given employment (with guaranteed protection) in the order in which such applications are received, and runs and positions assigned them accordingly. Otherwise, they will be considered discharged, and every vacancy will be filled by a new man as soon as his services can be secured. (Signed) Benjamin Norton, President

He also noted among the want ads. one which read:

WANTED. — 50 skilled motormen, accustomed to Westinghouse system, to run U.S. mail cars only, in the City of Brooklyn; protection guaranteed.

He noted particularly in each the “protection guaranteed.” It signified to him the unassailable power of the companies.

“They’ve got the militia on their side,” he thought. “There isn’t anything those men can do.”

While this was still in his mind, the incident with Oeslogge and Carrie occurred. There had been a good deal to irritate him, but this seemed much the worst. Never before had she accused him of stealing — or very near that. She doubted the naturalness of so large a bill. And he had worked so hard to make expenses seem light. He had been “doing” butcher and baker in order not to call on her. He had eaten very little — almost nothing.

“Damn it all!” he said. “I can get something. I’m not down yet.”

He thought that he really must do something now. It was too cheap to sit around after such an insinuation as this. Why, after a little, he would be standing anything.

He got up and looked out the window into the chilly street. It came gradually into his mind, as he stood there, to go to Brooklyn.

“Why not?” his mind said. “Any one can get work over there. You’ll get two a day.”

“How about accidents?” said a voice. “You might get hurt.”

“Oh, there won’t be much of that,” he answered. “They’ve called out the police. Any one who wants to run a car will be protected all right.”

“You don’t know how to run a car,” rejoined the voice.

“I won’t apply as a motorman,” he answered. “I can ring up fares all right.”

“They’ll want motormen, mostly.”

“They’ll take anybody; that I know.”

For several hours he argued pro and con with this mental counsellor, feeling no need to act at once in a matter so sure of profit.

In the morning he put on his best clothes, which were poor enough, and began stirring about, putting some bread and meat into a page of a newspaper. Carrie watched him, interested in this new move.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Over to Brooklyn,” he answered. Then, seeing her still inquisitive, he added: “I think I can get on over there.”

“On the trolley lines?” said Carrie, astonished.

“Yes,” he rejoined.

“Aren’t you afraid?” she asked.

“What of?” he answered. “The police are protecting them.”

“The paper said four men were hurt yesterday.”

“Yes,” he returned; “but you can’t go by what the papers say. They’ll run the cars all right.”

He looked rather determined now, in a desolate sort of way, and Carrie felt very sorry. Something of the old Hurstwood was here — the least shadow of what was once shrewd and pleasant strength. Outside, it was cloudy and blowing a few flakes of snow.

“What a day to go over there,” thought Carrie.

Now he left before she did, which was a remarkable thing, and tramped eastward to Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, where he took the car. He had read that scores of applicants were applying at the office of the Brooklyn City Railroad building and were being received. He made his way there by horse-car and ferry — a dark, silent man — to the offices in question. It was a long way, for no cars were running, and the day was cold; but he trudged along grimly. Once in Brooklyn, he could clearly see and feel that a strike was on. People showed it in their manner. Along the routes of certain tracks not a car was running. About certain corners and nearby saloons small groups of men were lounging. Several spring wagons passed him, equipped with plain wooden chairs, and labelled “Flatbush” or “Prospect Park. Fare, Ten Cents.” He noticed cold and even gloomy faces. Labour was having its little war.

When he came near the office in question, he saw a few men standing about, and some policemen. On the far corners were other men — whom he took to be strikers — watching. All the houses were small and wooden, the streets poorly paved. After New York, Brooklyn looked actually poor and hard-up.

He made his way into the heart of the small group, eyed by policemen and the men already there. One of the officers addressed him.

“What are you looking for?”

“I want to see if I can get a place.”

“The offices are up those steps,” said the bluecoat. His face was a very neutral thing to contemplate. In his heart of hearts, he sympathised with the strikers and hated this “scab.” In his heart of hearts, also, he felt the dignity and use of the police force, which commanded order. Of its true social significance, he never once dreamed. His was not the mind for that. The two feelings blended in him — neutralised one another and him. He would have fought for this man as determinedly as for himself, and yet only so far as commanded. Strip him of his uniform, and he would have soon picked his side.

Hurstwood ascended a dusty flight of steps and entered a small, dust-coloured office, in which were a railing, a long desk, and several clerks.

“Well, sir?” said a middle-aged man, looking up at him from the long desk.

“Do you want to hire any men?” inquired Hurstwood.

“What are you — a motorman?”

“No; I’m not anything,” said Hurstwood.

He was not at all abashed by his position. He knew these people needed men. If one didn’t take him, another would. This man could take him or leave him, just as he chose.

“Well, we prefer experienced men, of course,” said the man. He paused, while Hurstwood smiled indifferently. Then he added: “Still, I guess you can learn. What is your name?”

“Wheeler,” said Hurstwood.

The man wrote an order on a small card. “Take that to our barns,” he said, “and give it to the foreman. He’ll show you what to do.”

Hurstwood went down and out. He walked straight away in the direction indicated, while the policemen looked after.

“There’s another wants to try it,” said Officer Kiely to Officer Macey.

“I have my mind he’ll get his fill,” returned the latter, quietly. They had been in strikes before.

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