Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser

Chapter XLIV

And this is Not Elf Land — What Gold Will Not Buy

When Carrie got back on the stage, she found that over night her dressing-room had been changed.

“You are to use this room, Miss Madenda,” said one of the stage lackeys.

No longer any need of climbing several flights of steps to a small coop shared with another. Instead, a comparatively large and commodious chamber with conveniences not enjoyed by the small fry overhead. She breathed deeply and with delight. Her sensations were more physical than mental. In fact, she was scarcely thinking at all. Heart and body were having their say.

Gradually the deference and congratulation gave her a mental appreciation of her state. She was no longer ordered, but requested, and that politely. The other members of the cast looked at her enviously as she came out arrayed in her simple habit, which she wore all through the play. All those who had supposedly been her equals and superiors now smiled the smile of sociability, as much as to say: “How friendly we have always been.” Only the star comedian whose part had been so deeply injured stalked by himself. Figuratively, he could not kiss the hand that smote him.

Doing her simple part, Carrie gradually realised the meaning of the applause which was for her, and it was sweet. She felt mildly guilty of something — perhaps unworthiness. When her associates addressed her in the wings she only smiled weakly. The pride and daring of place were not for her. It never once crossed her mind to be reserved or haughty — to be other than she had been. After the performances she rode to her room with Lola, in a carriage provided.

Then came a week in which the first fruits of success were offered to her lips — bowl after bowl. It did not matter that her splendid salary had not begun. The world seemed satisfied with the promise. She began to get letters and cards. A Mr. Withers — whom she did not know from Adam — having learned by some hook or crook where she resided, bowed himself politely in.

“You will excuse me for intruding,” he said; “but have you been thinking of changing your apartments?”

“I hadn’t thought of it,” returned Carrie.

“Well, I am connected with the Wellington — the new hotel on Broadway. You have probably seen notices of it in the papers.”

Carrie recognised the name as standing for one of the newest and most imposing hostelries. She had heard it spoken of as having a splendid restaurant.

“Just so,” went on Mr. Withers, accepting her acknowledgment of familiarity. “We have some very elegant rooms at present which we would like to have you look at, if you have not made up your mind where you intend to reside for the summer. Our apartments are perfect in every detail — hot and cold water, private baths, special hall service for every floor, elevators, and all that. You know what our restaurant is.”

Carrie looked at him quietly. She was wondering whether he took her to be a millionaire.

“What are your rates?” she inquired.

“Well, now, that is what I came to talk with you privately about. Our regular rates are anywhere from three to fifty dollars a day.”

“Mercy!” interrupted Carrie. “I couldn’t pay any such rate as that.”

“I know how you feel about it,” exclaimed Mr. Withers, halting. “But just let me explain. I said those are our regular rates. Like every other hotel we make special ones however. Possibly you have not thought about it, but your name is worth something to us.” “Oh!” ejaculated Carrie, seeing at a glance.

“Of course. Every hotel depends upon the repute of its patrons. A well-known actress like yourself,” and he bowed politely, while Carrie flushed, “draws attention to the hotel, and — although you may not believe it — patrons.”

“Oh, yes,” returned Carrie, vacantly, trying to arrange this curious proposition in her mind.

“Now,” continued Mr. Withers, swaying his derby hat softly and beating one of his polished shoes upon the floor, “I want to arrange, if possible, to have you come and stop at the Wellington. You need not trouble about terms. In fact, we need hardly discuss them. Anything will do for the summer — a mere figure — anything that you think you could afford to pay.”

Carrie was about to interrupt, but he gave her no chance.

“You can come today or tomorrow — the earlier the better — and we will give you your choice of nice, light, outside rooms — the very best we have.”

“You’re very kind,” said Carrie, touched by the agent’s extreme affability. “I should like to come very much. I would want to pay what is right, however. I shouldn’t want to — ”

“You need not trouble about that at all,” interrupted Mr. Withers. “We can arrange that to your entire satisfaction at any time. If three dollars a day is satisfactory to you, it will be so to us. All you have to do is to pay that sum to the clerk at the end of the week or month, just as you wish, and he will give you a receipt for what the rooms would cost if charged for at our regular rates.”

The speaker paused.

“Suppose you come and look at the rooms,” he added.

“I’d be glad to,” said Carrie, “but I have a rehearsal this morning.”

“I did not mean at once,” he returned. “Any time will do. Would this afternoon be inconvenient?”

“Not at all,” said Carrie.

Suddenly she remembered Lola, who was out at the time.

“I have a room-mate,” she added, “who will have to go wherever I do. I forgot about that.”

“Oh, very well,” said Mr. Withers, blandly. “It is for you to say whom you want with you. As I say, all that can be arranged to suit yourself.”

He bowed and backed toward the door.

“At four, then, we may expect you?”

“Yes,” said Carrie.

“I will be there to show you,” and so Mr. Withers withdrew.

After rehearsal Carrie informed Lola. “Did they really?” exclaimed the latter, thinking of the Wellington as a group of managers. “Isn’t that fine? Oh, jolly! It’s so swell. That’s where we dined that night we went with those two Cushing boys. Don’t you know?”

“I remember,” said Carrie.

“Oh, it’s as fine as it can be.”

“We’d better be going up there,” observed Carrie later in the afternoon.

The rooms which Mr. Withers displayed to Carrie and Lola were three and bath — a suite on the parlour floor. They were done in chocolate and dark red, with rugs and hangings to match. Three windows looked down into busy Broadway on the east, three into a side street which crossed there. There were two lovely bedrooms, set with brass and white enamel beds, white ribbon-trimmed chairs and chiffoniers to match. In the third room, or parlour, was a piano, a heavy piano lamp, with a shade of gorgeous pattern, a library table, several huge easy rockers, some dado book shelves, and a gilt curio case, filled with oddities. Pictures were upon the walls, soft Turkish pillows upon the divan footstools of brown plush upon the floor. Such accommodations would ordinarily cost a hundred dollars a week.

“Oh, lovely!” exclaimed Lola, walking about.

“It is comfortable,” said Carrie, who was lifting a lace curtain and looking down into crowded Broadway.

The bath was a handsome affair, done in white enamel, with a large, blue-bordered stone tub and nickel trimmings. It was bright and commodious, with a bevelled mirror set in the wall at one end and incandescent lights arranged in three places.

“Do you find these satisfactory?” observed Mr. Withers.

“Oh, very,” answered Carrie.

“Well, then, any time you find it convenient to move in, they are ready. The boy will bring you the keys at the door.”

Carrie noted the elegantly carpeted and decorated hall, the marbled lobby, and showy waiting-room. It was such a place as she had often dreamed of occupying.

“I guess we’d better move right away, don’t you think so?” she observed to Lola, thinking of the commonplace chamber in Seventeenth Street.

“Oh, by all means,” said the latter.

The next day her trunks left for the new abode.

Dressing, after the matinee on Wednesday, a knock came at her dressing-room door.

Carrie looked at the card handed by the boy and suffered a shock of surprise.

“Tell her I’ll be right out,” she said softly. Then, looking at the card, added: “Mrs. Vance.”

“Why, you little sinner,” the latter exclaimed, as she saw Carrie coming toward her across the now vacant stage. “How in the world did this happen?”

Carrie laughed merrily. There was no trace of embarrassment in her friend’s manner. You would have thought that the long separation had come about accidentally.

“I don’t know,” returned Carrie, warming, in spite of her first troubled feelings, toward this handsome, good-natured young matron.

“Well, you know, I saw your picture in the Sunday paper, but your name threw me off. I thought it must be you or somebody that looked just like you, and I said: ‘Well, now, I will go right down there and see.’ I was never more surprised in my life. How are you, anyway?”

“Oh, very well,” returned Carrie. “How have you been?”

“Fine. But aren’t you a success! Dear, oh! All the papers talking about you. I should think you would be just too proud to breathe. I was almost afraid to come back here this afternoon.”

“Oh, nonsense,” said Carrie, blushing. “You know I’d be glad to see you.”

“Well, anyhow, here you are. Can’t you come up and take dinner with me now? Where are you stopping?”

“At the Wellington,” said Carrie, who permitted herself a touch of pride in the acknowledgment.

“Oh, are you?” exclaimed the other, upon whom the name was not without its proper effect.

Tactfully, Mrs. Vance avoided the subject of Hurstwood, of whom she could not help thinking. No doubt Carrie had left him. That much she surmised.

“Oh, I don’t think I can,” said Carrie, “to-night. I have so little time. I must be back here by 7.30. Won’t you come and dine with me?”

“I’d be delighted, but I can’t to-night,” said Mrs. Vance studying Carrie’s fine appearance. The latter’s good fortune made her seem more than ever worthy and delightful in the others eyes. “I promised faithfully to be home at six.” Glancing at the small gold watch pinned to her bosom, she added: “I must be going, too. Tell me when you’re coming up, if at all.”

“Why, any time you like,” said Carrie.

“Well, tomorrow then. I’m living at the Chelsea now.”

“Moved again?” exclaimed Carrie, laughing.

“Yes. You know I can’t stay six months in one place. I just have to move. Remember now — half-past five.”

“I won’t forget,” said Carrie, casting a glance at her as she went away. Then it came to her that she was as good as this woman now — perhaps better. Something in the other’s solicitude and interest made her feel as if she were the one to condescend.

Now, as on each preceding day, letters were handed her by the doorman at the Casino. This was a feature which had rapidly developed since Monday. What they contained she well knew. MASH NOTES were old affairs in their mildest form. She remembered having received her first one far back in Columbia City. Since then, as a chorus girl, she had received others — gentlemen who prayed for an engagement. They were common sport between her and Lola, who received some also. They both frequently made light of them.

Now, however, they came thick and fast. Gentlemen with fortunes did not hesitate to note, as an addition to their own amiable collection of virtues, that they had their horses and carriages. Thus one:

“I have a million in my own right. I could give you every luxury. There isn’t anything you could ask for that you couldn’t have. I say this, not because I want to speak of my money, but because I love you and wish to gratify your every desire. It is love that prompts me to write. Will you not give me one half-hour in which to plead my cause?”

Such of these letters as came while Carrie was still in the Seventeenth Street place were read with more interest — though never delight — than those which arrived after she was installed in her luxurious quarters at the Wellington. Even there her vanity — or that self-appreciation which, in its more rabid form, is called vanity — was not sufficiently cloyed to make these things wearisome. Adulation, being new in any form, pleased her. Only she was sufficiently wise to distinguish between her old condition and her new one. She had not had fame or money before. Now they had come. She had not had adulation and affectionate propositions before. Now they had come. Wherefore? She smiled to think that men should suddenly find her so much more attractive. In the least way it incited her to coolness and indifference.

“Do look here,” she remarked to Lola. “See what this man says: ‘If you will only deign to grant me one half-hour,’” she repeated, with an imitation of languor. “The idea. Aren’t men silly?”

“He must have lots of money, the way he talks,” observed Lola. “That’s what they all say,” said Carrie, innocently.

“Why don’t you see him,” suggested Lola, “and hear what he has to say?”

“Indeed I won’t,” said Carrie. “I know what he’d say. I don’t want to meet anybody that way.”

Lola looked at her with big, merry eyes.

“He couldn’t hurt you,” she returned. “You might have some fun with him.”

Carrie shook her head.

“You’re awfully queer,” returned the little, blue-eyed soldier.

Thus crowded fortune. For this whole week, though her large salary had not yet arrived, it was as if the world understood and trusted her. Without money — or the requisite sum, at least — she enjoyed the luxuries which money could buy. For her the doors of fine places seemed to open quite without the asking. These palatial chambers, how marvellously they came to her. The elegant apartments of Mrs. Vance in the Chelsea — these were hers. Men sent flowers, love notes, offers of fortune. And still her dreams ran riot. The one hundred and fifty! the one hundred and fifty! What a door to an Aladdin’s cave it seemed to be. Each day, her head almost turned by developments, her fancies of what her fortune must be, with ample money, grew and multiplied. She conceived of delights which were not — saw lights of joy that never were on land or sea. Then, at last, after a world of anticipation, came her first installment of one hundred and fifty dollars.

It was paid to her in greenbacks — three twenties, six tens, and six fives. Thus collected it made a very convenient roll. It was accompanied by a smile and a salutation from the cashier who paid it.

“Ah, yes,” said the latter, when she applied; “Miss Madenda — one hundred and fifty dollars. Quite a success the show seems to have made.”

“Yes, indeed,” returned Carrie.

Right after came one of the insignificant members of the company, and she heard the changed tone of address.

“How much?” said the same cashier, sharply. One, such as she had only recently been, was waiting for her modest salary. It took her back to the few weeks in which she had collected — or rather had received — almost with the air of a domestic, four-fifty per week from a lordly foreman in a shoe factory — a man who, in distributing the envelopes, had the manner of a prince doling out favours to a servile group of petitioners. She knew that out in Chicago this very day the same factory chamber was full of poor homely-clad girls working in long lines at clattering machines; that at noon they would eat a miserable lunch in a half-hour; that Saturday they would gather, as they had when she was one of them, and accept the small pay for work a hundred times harder than she was now doing. Oh, it was so easy now! The world was so rosy and bright. She felt so thrilled that she must needs walk back to the hotel to think, wondering what she should do.

It does not take money long to make plain its impotence, providing the desires are in the realm of affection. With her one hundred and fifty in hand, Carrie could think of nothing particularly to do. In itself, as a tangible, apparent thing which she could touch and look upon, it was a diverting thing for a few days, but this soon passed. Her hotel bill did not require its use. Her clothes had for some time been wholly satisfactory. Another day or two and she would receive another hundred and fifty. It began to appear as if this were not so startlingly necessary to maintain her present state. If she wanted to do anything better or move higher she must have more — a great deal more.

Now a critic called to get up one of those tinsel interviews which shine with clever observations, show up the wit of critics, display the folly of celebrities, and divert the public. He liked Carrie, and said so, publicly — adding, however, that she was merely pretty, good-natured, and lucky. This cut like a knife. The “Herald,” getting up an entertainment for the benefit of its free ice fund, did her the honour to beg her to appear along with celebrities for nothing. She was visited by a young author, who had a play which he thought she could produce. Alas, she could not judge. It hurt her to think it. Then she found she must put her money in the bank for safety, and so moving, finally reached the place where it struck her that the door to life’s perfect enjoyment was not open.

Gradually she began to think it was because it was summer. Nothing was going on much save such entertainments as the one in which she was the star. Fifth Avenue was boarded up where the rich had deserted their mansions. Madison Avenue was little better. Broadway was full of loafing thespians in search of next season’s engagements. The whole city was quiet and her nights were taken up with her work. Hence the feeling that there was little to do.

“I don’t know,” she said to Lola one day, sitting at one of the windows which looked down into Broadway, “I get lonely; don’t you?”

“No,” said Lola, “not very often. You won’t go anywhere. That’s what’s the matter with you.”

“Where can I go?”

“Why, there’re lots of places,” returned Lola, who was thinking of her own lightsome tourneys with the gay youths. “You won’t go with anybody.”

“I don’t want to go with these people who write to me. I know what kind they are.”

“You oughtn’t to be lonely,” said Lola, thinking of Carrie’s success. “There’re lots would give their ears to be in your shoes.”

Carrie looked out again at the passing crowd.

“I don’t know,” she said.

Unconsciously her idle hands were beginning to weary.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dreiser/theodore/sister/chapter44.html

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