"Sure," interrupted Drouet, "that's a good idea."
"Several of the boys around here have got talent. There's Harry Burbeck, he does a fine black-face turn. Mac Lewis is all right at heavy dramatics. Did you ever hear him recite 'Over the Hills'?"
"Well, I tell you, he does it fine."
"And you want me to get some woman to take a part?" questioned Drouet, anxious to terminate the subject and get on to something else. "What are you going to play?"
"'Under the Gaslight,'" said Mr. Quincel, mentioning Augustin Daly's famous production, which had worn from a great public success down to an amateur theatrical favourite, with many of the troublesome accessories cut out and the dramatis personae reduced to the smallest possible number.
Drouet had seen this play some time in the past.
"That's it," he said; "that's a fine play. It will go all right. You ought to make a lot of money out of that."
"We think we'll do very well," Mr. Quincel replied. "Don't you forget now," he concluded, Drouet showing signs of restlessness; "some young woman to take the part of Laura."
"Sure, I'll attend to it."
He moved away, forgetting almost all about it the moment Mr. Quincel had ceased talking. He had not even thought to ask the time or place.
Drouet was reminded of his promise a day or two later by the receipt of a letter announcing that the first rehearsal was set for the following Friday evening, and urging him to kindly forward the young lady's address at once, in order that the part might be delivered to her.
"Now, who the deuce do I know?" asked the drummer reflectively, scratching his rosy ear. "I don't know any one that knows anything about amateur theatricals."
He went over in memory the names of a number of women he knew, and finally fixed on one, largely because of the convenient location of her home on the West Side, and promised himself that as he came out that evening he would see her. When, however, he started west on the car he forgot, and was only reminded of his delinquency by an item in the "Evening News"—a small three-line affair under the head of Secret Society Notes—which stated the Custer Lodge of the Order of Elks would give a theatrical performance in Avery Hall on the 16th, when "Under the Gaslight" would be produced.
"George!" exclaimed Drouet, "I forgot that."
"What?" inquired Carrie.
They were at their little table in the room which might have been used for a kitchen, where Carrie occasionally served a meal. To-night the fancy had caught her, and the little table was spread with a pleasing repast.
"Why, my lodge entertainment. They're going to give a play, and they wanted me to get them some young lady to take a part."
"What is it they're going to play?"
"'Under the Gaslight.'"
"On the 16th."
"Well, why don't you?" asked Carrie.
"I don't know any one," he replied.
Suddenly he looked up.
"Say," he said, "how would you like to take the part?"
"Me?" said Carrie. "I can't act."
"How do you know?" questioned Drouet reflectively.
"Because," answered Carrie, "I never did."
Nevertheless, she was pleased to think he would ask. Her eyes brightened, for if there was anything that enlisted her sympathies it was the art of the stage. True to his nature, Drouet clung to this idea as an easy way out.
"That's nothing. You can act all you have to down there."
"No, I can't," said Carrie weakly, very much drawn toward the proposition and yet fearful.
"Yes, you can. Now, why don't you do it? They need some one, and it will be lots of fun for you."
"Oh, no, it won't," said Carrie seriously.
"You'd like that. I know you would. I've seen you dancing around here and giving imitations and that's why I asked you. You're clever enough, all right."
"No, I'm not," said Carrie shyly.
"Now, I'll tell you what you do. You go down and see about it. It'll be fun for you. The rest of the company isn't going to be any good. They haven't any experience. What do they know about theatricals?"
He frowned as he thought of their ignorance.
"Hand me the coffee," he added.
"I don't believe I could act, Charlie," Carrie went on pettishly. "You don't think I could, do you?"
"Sure. Out o' sight. I bet you make a hit. Now you want to go, I know you do. I knew it when I came home. That's why I asked you."
"What is the play, did you say?"
"'Under the Gaslight.'"
"What part would they want me to take?"
"Oh, one of the heroines—I don't know."
"What sort of a play is it?"
"Well," said Drouet, whose memory for such things was not the best, "it's about a girl who gets kidnapped by a couple of crooks—a man and a woman that live in the slums. She had some money or something and they wanted to get it. I don't know now how it did go exactly."
"Don't you know what part I would have to take?"
"No, I don't, to tell the truth." He thought a moment. "Yes, I do, too. Laura, that's the thing—you're to be Laura."
"And you can't remember what the part is like?"
"To save me, Cad, I can't," he answered. "I ought to, too; I've seen the play enough. There's a girl in it that was stolen when she was an infant—was picked off the street or something—and she's the one that's hounded by the two old criminals I was telling you about." He stopped with a mouthful of pie poised on a fork before his face. "She comes very near getting drowned—no, that's not it. I'll tell you what I'll do," he concluded hopelessly, "I'll get you the book. I can't remember now for the life of me."
"Well, I don't know," said Carrie, when he had concluded, her interest and desire to shine dramatically struggling with her timidity for the mastery. "I might go if you thought I'd do all right."
"Of course, you'll do," said Drouet, who, in his efforts to enthuse Carrie, had interested himself. "Do you think I'd come home here and urge you to do something that I didn't think you would make a success of? You can act all right. It'll be good for you."
"When must I go?" said Carrie, reflectively.
"The first rehearsal is Friday night. I'll get the part for you to-night."
"All right," said Carrie resignedly, "I'll do it, but if I make a failure now it's your fault."
"You won't fail," assured Drouet. "Just act as you do around here. Be natural. You're all right. I've often thought you'd make a corking good actress."
"Did you really?" asked Carrie.
"That's right," said the drummer.
He little knew as he went out of the door that night what a secret flame he had kindled in the bosom of the girl he left behind. Carrie was possessed of that sympathetic, impressionable nature which, ever in the most developed form, has been the glory of the drama. She was created with that passivity of soul which is always the mirror of the active world. She possessed an innate taste for imitation and no small ability. Even without practice, she could sometimes restore dramatic situations she had witnessed by re-creating, before her mirror, the expressions of the various faces taking part in the scene. She loved to modulate her voice after the conventional manner of the distressed heroine, and repeat such pathetic fragments as appealed most to her sympathies. Of late, seeing the airy grace of the ingenue in several well-constructed plays, she had been moved to secretly imitate it, and many were the little movements and expressions of the body in which she indulged from time to time in the privacy of her chamber. On several occasions, when Drouet had caught her admiring herself, as he imagined, in the mirror, she was doing nothing more than recalling some little grace of the mouth or the eyes which she had witnessed in another. Under his airy accusation she mistook this for vanity and accepted the blame with a faint sense of error, though, as a matter of fact, it was nothing more than the first subtle outcroppings of an artistic nature, endeavouring to re-create the perfect likeness of some phase of beauty which appealed to her. In such feeble tendencies, be it known, such outworking of desire to reproduce life, lies the basis of all dramatic art.
Now, when Carrie heard Drouet's laudatory opinion of her dramatic ability, her body tingled with satisfaction. Like the flame which welds the loosened particles into a solid mass, his words united those floating wisps of feeling which she had felt, but never believed, concerning her possible ability, and made them into a gaudy shred of hope. Like all human beings, she had a touch of vanity. She felt that she could do things if she only had a chance. How often had she looked at the well-dressed actresses on the stage and wondered how she would look, how delightful she would feel if only she were in their place. The glamour, the tense situation, the fine clothes, the applause, these had lured her until she felt that she, too, could act—that she, too, could compel acknowledgment of power. Now she was told that she really could—that little things she had done about the house had made even him feel her power. It was a delightful sensation while it lasted.
When Drouet was gone, she sat down in her rocking-chair by the window to think about it. As usual, imagination exaggerated the possibilities for her. It was as if he had put fifty cents in her hand and she had exercised the thoughts of a thousand dollars. She saw herself in a score of pathetic situations in which she assumed a tremulous voice and suffering manner. Her mind delighted itself with scenes of luxury and refinement, situations in which she was the cynosure of all eyes, the arbiter of all fates. As she rocked to and fro she felt the tensity of woe in abandonment, the magnificence of wrath after deception, the languour of sorrow after defeat. Thoughts of all the charming women she had seen in plays—every fancy, every illusion which she had concerning the stage—now came back as a returning tide after the ebb. She built up feelings and a determination which the occasion did not warrant.
Drouet dropped in at the lodge when he went down town, and swashed around with a great AIR, as Quincel met him.
"Where is that young lady you were going to get for us?" asked the latter.
"I've got her," said Drouet.
"Have you?" said Quincel, rather surprised by his promptness; "that's good. What's her address?" and he pulled out his notebook in order to be able to send her part to her.
"You want to send her her part?" asked the drummer.
"Well, I'll take it. I'm going right by her house in the morning.
"What did you say her address was? We only want it in case we have any information to send her."
"Twenty-nine Ogden Place."
"And her name?"
"Carrie Madenda," said the drummer, firing at random. The lodge members knew him to be single.
"That sounds like somebody that can act, doesn't it?" said Quincel.
"Yes, it does."
He took the part home to Carrie and handed it to her with the manner of one who does a favour.
"He says that's the best part. Do you think you can do it?"
"I don't know until I look it over. You know I'm afraid, now that I've said I would."
"Oh, go on. What have you got to be afraid of? It's a cheap company. The rest of them aren't as good as you are."
"Well, I'll see," said Carrie, pleased to have the part, for all her misgivings.
He sidled around, dressing and fidgeting before he arranged to make his next remark.
"They were getting ready to print the programmes," he said, "and I gave them the name of Carrie Madenda. Was that all right?"
"Yes, I guess so," said his companion, looking up at him. She was thinking it was slightly strange.
"If you didn't make a hit, you know," he went on.
"Oh, yes," she answered, rather pleased now with his caution. It was clever for Drouet.
"I didn't want to introduce you as my wife, because you'd feel worse then if you didn't GO. They all know me so well. But you'll GO all right. Anyhow, you'll probably never meet any of them again."
"Oh, I don't care," said Carrie desperately. She was determined now to have a try at the fascinating game.
Drouet breathed a sigh of relief. He had been afraid that he was about to precipitate another conversation upon the marriage question.
The part of Laura, as Carrie found out when she began to examine it, was one of suffering and tears. As delineated by Mr. Daly, it was true to the most sacred traditions of melodrama as he found it when he began his career. The sorrowful demeanour, the tremolo music, the long, explanatory, cumulative addresses, all were there.
"Poor fellow," read Carrie, consulting the text and drawing her voice out pathetically. "Martin, be sure and give him a glass of wine before he goes."
She was surprised at the briefness of the entire part, not knowing that she must be on the stage while others were talking, and not only be there, but also keep herself in harmony with the dramatic movement of the scenes.
"I think I can do that, though," she concluded.
When Drouet came the next night, she was very much satisfied with her day's study.
"Well, how goes it, Caddie?" he said.
"All right," she laughed. "I think I have it memorised nearly."
"That's good," he said. "Let's hear some of it."
"Oh, I don't know whether I can get up and say it off here," she said bashfully.
"Well, I don't know why you shouldn't. It'll be easier here than it will there."
"I don't know about that," she answered. Eventually she took off the ballroom episode with considerable feeling, forgetting, as she got deeper in the scene, all about Drouet, and letting herself rise to a fine state of feeling.
"Good," said Drouet; "fine, out o' sight! You're all right Caddie, I tell you."
He was really moved by her excellent representation and the general appearance of the pathetic little figure as it swayed and finally fainted to the floor. He had bounded up to catch her, and now held her laughing in his arms.
"Ain't you afraid you'll hurt yourself?" he asked.
"Not a bit."
"Well, you're a wonder. Say, I never knew you could do anything like that."
"I never did, either," said Carrie merrily, her face flushed with delight.
"Well, you can bet that you're all right," said Drouet. "You can take my word for that. You won't fail."
Chapter XVII. A GLIMPSE THROUGH THE GATEWAY—HOPE LIGHTENS THE EYE
The, to Carrie, very important theatrical performance was to take place at the Avery on conditions which were to make it more noteworthy than was at first anticipated. The little dramatic student had written to Hurstwood the very morning her part was brought her that she was going to take part in a play.
"I really am," she wrote, feeling that he might take it as a jest; "I have my part now, honest, truly."
Hurstwood smiled in an indulgent way as he read this.
"I wonder what it is going to be? I must see that."
He answered at once, making a pleasant reference to her ability. "I haven't the slightest doubt you will make a success. You must come to the park to-morrow morning and tell me all about it."
Carrie gladly complied, and revealed all the details of the undertaking as she understood it.
"Well," he said, "that's fine. I'm glad to hear it. Of course, you will do well, you're so clever."
He had truly never seen so much spirit in the girl before. Her tendency to discover a touch of sadness had for the nonce disappeared. As she spoke her eyes were bright, her cheeks red. She radiated much of the pleasure which her undertakings gave her. For all her misgivings—and they were as plentiful as the moments of the day—she was still happy. She could not repress her delight in doing this little thing which, to an ordinary observer, had no importance at all.
Hurstwood was charmed by the development of the fact that the girl had capabilities. There is nothing so inspiring in life as the sight of a legitimate ambition, no matter how incipient. It gives colour, force, and beauty to the possessor.
Carrie was now lightened by a touch of this divine afflatus. She drew to herself commendation from her two admirers which she had not earned. Their affection for her naturally heightened their perception of what she was trying to do and their approval of what she did. Her inexperience conserved her own exuberant fancy, which ran riot with every straw of opportunity, making of it a golden divining rod whereby the treasure of life was to be discovered.
"Let's see," said Hurstwood, "I ought to know some of the boys in the lodge. I'm an Elk myself."
"Oh, you mustn't let him know I told you."
"That's so," said the manager.
"I'd like for you to be there, if you want to come, but I don't see how you can unless he asks you."
"I'll be there," said Hurstwood affectionately. "I can fix it so he won't know you told me. You leave it to me."
This interest of the manager was a large thing in itself for the performance, for his standing among the Elks was something worth talking about. Already he was thinking of a box with some friends, and flowers for Carrie. He would make it a dress-suit affair and give the little girl a chance.
Within a day or two, Drouet dropped into the Adams Street resort, and he was at once spied by Hurstwood. It was at five in the afternoon and the place was crowded with merchants, actors, managers, politicians, a goodly company of rotund, rosy figures, silk-hatted, starchy-bosomed, beringed and bescarfpinned to the queen's taste. John L. Sullivan, the pugilist, was at one end of the glittering bar, surrounded by a company of loudly dressed sports, who were holding a most animated conversation. Drouet came across the floor with a festive stride, a new pair of tan shoes squeaking audibly at his progress.
"Well, sir," said Hurstwood, "I was wondering what had become of you. I thought you had gone out of town again."
"If you don't report more regularly we'll have to cut you off the list."
"Couldn't help it," said the drummer, "I've been busy."
They strolled over toward the bar amid the noisy, shifting company of notables. The dressy manager was shaken by the hand three times in as many minutes.
"I hear your lodge is going to give a performance," observed Hurstwood, in the most offhand manner.
"Yes, who told you?"
"No one," said Hurstwood. "They just sent me a couple of tickets, which I can have for two dollars. Is it going to be any good?"
"I don't know," replied the drummer. "They've been trying to get me to get some woman to take a part."
"I wasn't intending to go," said the manager easily. "I'll subscribe, of course. How are things over there?"
"All right. They're going to fit things up out of the proceeds."
"Well," said the manager, "I hope they make a success of it. Have another?"
He did not intend to say any more. Now, if he should appear on the scene with a few friends, he could say that he had been urged to come along. Drouet had a desire to wipe out the possibility of confusion.
"I think the girl is going to take a part in it," he said abruptly, after thinking it over.
"You don't say so! How did that happen?"
"Well, they were short and wanted me to find them some one. I told Carrie, and she seems to want to try."
"Good for her," said the manager. "It'll be a real nice affair. Do her good, too. Has she ever had any experience?"
"Not a bit."
"Oh, well, it isn't anything very serious."
"She's clever, though," said Drouet, casting off any imputation against Carrie's ability. "She picks up her part quick enough."
"You don't say so!" said the manager.
"Yes, sir; she surprised me the other night. By George, if she didn't."
"We must give her a nice little send-off," said the manager. "I'll look after the flowers."
Drouet smiled at his good-nature.
"After the show you must come with me and we'll have a little supper."
"I think she'll do all right," said Drouet.
"I want to see her. She's got to do all right. We'll make her," and the manager gave one of his quick, steely half-smiles, which was a compound of good-nature and shrewdness.
Carrie, meanwhile, attended the first rehearsal. At this performance Mr. Quincel presided, aided by Mr. Millice, a young man who had some qualifications of past experience, which were not exactly understood by any one. He was so experienced and so business-like, however, that he came very near being rude—failing to remember, as he did, that the individuals he was trying to instruct were volunteer players and not salaried underlings.
"Now, Miss Madenda," he said, addressing Carrie, who stood in one part uncertain as to what move to make, "you don't want to stand like that. Put expression in your face. Remember, you are troubled over the intrusion of the stranger. Walk so," and he struck out across the Avery stage in almost drooping manner.
Carrie did not exactly fancy the suggestion, but the novelty of the situation, the presence of strangers, all more or less nervous, and the desire to do anything rather than make a failure, made her timid. She walked in imitation of her mentor as requested, inwardly feeling that there was something strangely lacking.
"Now, Mrs. Morgan," said the director to one young married woman who was to take the part of Pearl, "you sit here. Now, Mr. Bamberger, you stand here, so. Now, what is it you say?"
"Explain," said Mr. Bamberger feebly. He had the part of Ray, Laura's lover, the society individual who was to waver in his thoughts of marrying her, upon finding that she was a waif and a nobody by birth.
"How is that—what does your text say?"
"Explain," repeated Mr. Bamberger, looking intently at his part.
"Yes, but it also says," the director remarked, "that you are to look shocked. Now, say it again, and see if you can't look shocked."
"Explain!" demanded Mr. Bamberger vigorously.
"No, no, that won't do! Say it this way—EXPLAIN."
"Explain," said Mr. Bamberger, giving a modified imitation.
"That's better. Now go on."
"One night," resumed Mrs. Morgan, whose lines came next, "father and mother were going to the opera. When they were crossing Broadway, the usual crowd of children accosted them for alms—"
"Hold on," said the director, rushing forward, his arm extended. "Put more feeling into what you are saying."
Mrs. Morgan looked at him as if she feared a personal assault. Her eye lightened with resentment.
"Remember, Mrs. Morgan," he added, ignoring the gleam, but modifying his manner, "that you're detailing a pathetic story. You are now supposed to be telling something that is a grief to you. It requires feeling, repression, thus: 'The usual crowd of children accosted them for alms.'"
"All right," said Mrs. Morgan.
"Now, go on."
"As mother felt in her pocket for some change, her fingers touched a cold and trembling hand which had clutched her purse."
"Very good," interrupted the director, nodding his head significantly.
"A pickpocket! Well!" exclaimed Mr. Bamberger, speaking the lines that here fell to him.
"No, no, Mr. Bamberger," said the director, approaching, "not that way. 'A pickpocket—well?' so. That's the idea."
"Don't you think," said Carrie weakly, noticing that it had not been proved yet whether the members of the company knew their lines, let alone the details of expression, "that it would be better if we just went through our lines once to see if we know them? We might pick up some points."
"A very good idea, Miss Madenda," said Mr. Quincel, who sat at the side of the stage, looking serenely on and volunteering opinions which the director did not heed.
"All right," said the latter, somewhat abashed, "it might be well to do it." Then brightening, with a show of authority, "Suppose we run right through, putting in as much expression as we can."
"Good," said Mr. Quincel.
"This hand," resumed Mrs. Morgan, glancing up at Mr. Bamberger and down at her book, as the lines proceeded, "my mother grasped in her own, and so tight that a small, feeble voice uttered an exclamation of pain. Mother looked down, and there beside her was a little ragged girl."
"Very good," observed the director, now hopelessly idle.
"The thief!" exclaimed Mr. Bamberger.
"Louder," put in the director, finding it almost impossible to keep his hands off.
"The thief!" roared poor Bamberger.
"Yes, but a thief hardly six years old, with a face like an angel's. 'Stop,' said my mother. 'What are you doing?'
"'Trying to steal,' said the child.
"'Don't you know that it is wicked to do so?' asked my father.
"'No,' said the girl, 'but it is dreadful to be hungry.'
"'Who told you to steal?' asked my mother.
"'She—there,' said the child, pointing to a squalid woman in a doorway opposite, who fled suddenly down the street. 'That is old Judas,' said the girl."
Mrs. Morgan read this rather flatly, and the director was in despair. He fidgeted around, and then went over to Mr. Quincel.
"What do you think of them?" he asked.
"Oh, I guess we'll be able to whip them into shape," said the latter, with an air of strength under difficulties.
"I don't know," said the director. "That fellow Bamberger strikes me as being a pretty poor shift for a lover."
"He's all we've got," said Quincel, rolling up his eyes. "Harrison went back on me at the last minute. Who else can we get?"
"I don't know," said the director. "I'm afraid he'll never pick up."
At this moment Bamberger was exclaiming, "Pearl, you are joking with me." "Look at that now," said the director, whispering behind his hand. "My Lord! what can you do with a man who drawls out a sentence like that?"
"Do the best you can," said Quincel consolingly.
The rendition ran on in this wise until it came to where Carrie, as Laura, comes into the room to explain to Ray, who, after hearing Pearl's statement about her birth, had written the letter repudiating her, which, however, he did not deliver. Bamberger was just concluding the words of Ray, "I must go before she returns. Her step! Too late," and was cramming the letter in his pocket, when she began sweetly with:
"Miss—Miss Courtland," Bamberger faltered weakly.
Carrie looked at him a moment and forgot all about the company present. She began to feel the part, and summoned an indifferent smile to her lips, turning as the lines directed and going to a window, as if he were not present. She did it with a grace which was fascinating to look upon.
"Who is that woman?" asked the director, watching Carrie in her little scene with Bamberger.
"Miss Madenda," said Quincel.
"I know her name," said the director, "but what does she do?"
"I don't know," said Quincel. "She's a friend of one of our members."
"Well, she's got more gumption than any one I've seen here so far—seems to take an interest in what she's doing."
"Pretty, too, isn't she?" said Quincel.
The director strolled away without answering.
In the second scene, where she was supposed to face the company in the ball-room, she did even better, winning the smile of the director, who volunteered, because of her fascination for him, to come over and speak with her.
"Were you ever on the stage?" he asked insinuatingly.
"No," said Carrie.
"You do so well, I thought you might have had some experience."
Carrie only smiled consciously.
He walked away to listen to Bamberger, who was feebly spouting some ardent line.
Mrs. Morgan saw the drift of things and gleamed at Carrie with envious and snapping black eyes.
"She's some cheap professional," she gave herself the satisfaction of thinking, and scorned and hated her accordingly.
The rehearsal ended for one day, and Carrie went home feeling that she had acquitted herself satisfactorily. The words of the director were ringing in her ears, and she longed for an opportunity to tell Hurstwood. She wanted him to know just how well she was doing. Drouet, too, was an object for her confidences. She could hardly wait until he should ask her, and yet she did not have the vanity to bring it up. The drummer, however, had another line of thought to-night, and her little experience did not appeal to him as important. He let the conversation drop, save for what she chose to recite without solicitation, and Carrie was not good at that. He took it for granted that she was doing very well and he was relieved of further worry. Consequently he threw Carrie into repression, which was irritating. She felt his indifference keenly and longed to see Hurstwood. It was as if he were now the only friend she had on earth. The next morning Drouet was interested again, but the damage had been done.
She got a pretty letter from the manager, saying that by the time she got it he would be waiting for her in the park. When she came, he shone upon her as the morning sun.
"Well, my dear," he asked, "how did you come out?"
"Well enough," she said, still somewhat reduced after Drouet.
"Now, tell me just what you did. Was it pleasant?"
Carrie related the incidents of the rehearsal, warming up as she proceeded.
"Well, that's delightful," said Hurstwood. "I'm so glad. I must get over there to see you. When is the next rehearsal?"
"Tuesday," said Carrie, "but they don't allow visitors."
"I imagine I could get in," said Hurstwood significantly.
She was completely restored and delighted by his consideration, but she made him promise not to come around.
"Now, you must do your best to please me," he said encouragingly. "Just remember that I want you to succeed. We will make the performance worth while. You do that now."
"I'll try," said Carrie, brimming with affection and enthusiasm.
"That's the girl," said Hurstwood fondly. "Now, remember," shaking an affectionate finger at her, "your best."
"I will," she answered, looking back.
The whole earth was brimming sunshine that morning. She tripped along, the clear sky pouring liquid blue into her soul. Oh, blessed are the children of endeavour in this, that they try and are hopeful. And blessed also are they who, knowing, smile and approve.
Chapter XVIII. JUST OVER THE BORDER—A HAIL AND FAREWELL
By the evening of the 16th the subtle hand of Hurstwood had made itself apparent. He had given the word among his friends—and they were many and influential—that here was something which they ought to attend, and, as a consequence, the sale of tickets by Mr. Quincel, acting for the lodge, had been large. Small four-line notes had appeared in all of the daily newspapers. These he had arranged for by the aid of one of his newspaper friends on the "Times," Mr. Harry McGarren, the managing editor.
"Say, Harry," Hurstwood said to him one evening, as the latter stood at the bar drinking before wending his belated way homeward, "you can help the boys out, I guess."
"What is it?" said McGarren, pleased to be consulted by the opulent manager.
"The Custer Lodge is getting up a little entertainment for their own good, and they'd like a little newspaper notice. You know what I mean—a squib or two saying that it's going to take place."
"Certainly," said McGarren, "I can fix that for you, George."
At the same time Hurstwood kept himself wholly in the background. The members of Custer Lodge could scarcely understand why their little affair was taking so well. Mr. Harry Quincel was looked upon as quite a star for this sort of work.
By the time the 16th had arrived Hurstwood's friends had rallied like Romans to a senator's call. A well-dressed, good-natured, flatteringly-inclined audience was assured from the moment he thought of assisting Carrie.
That little student had mastered her part to her own satisfaction, much as she trembled for her fate when she should once face the gathered throng, behind the glare of the footlights. She tried to console herself with the thought that a score of other persons, men and women, were equally tremulous concerning the outcome of their efforts, but she could not disassociate the general danger from her own individual liability. She feared that she would forget her lines, that she might be unable to master the feeling which she now felt concerning her own movements in the play. At times she wished that she had never gone into the affair; at others, she trembled lest she should be paralysed with fear and stand white and gasping, not knowing what to say and spoiling the entire performance.
In the matter of the company, Mr. Bamberger had disappeared. That hopeless example had fallen under the lance of the director's criticism. Mrs. Morgan was still present, but envious and determined, if for nothing more than spite, to do as well as Carrie at least. A loafing professional had been called in to assume the role of Ray, and, while he was a poor stick of his kind, he was not troubled by any of those qualms which attack the spirit of those who have never faced an audience. He swashed about (cautioned though he was to maintain silence concerning his past theatrical relationships) in such a self-confident manner that he was like to convince every one of his identity by mere matter of circumstantial evidence.
"It is so easy," he said to Mrs. Morgan, in the usual affected stage voice. "An audience would be the last thing to trouble me. It's the spirit of the part, you know, that is difficult."
Carrie disliked his appearance, but she was too much the actress not to swallow his qualities with complaisance, seeing that she must suffer his fictitious love for the evening.
At six she was ready to go. Theatrical paraphernalia had been provided over and above her care. She had practised her make-up in the morning, had rehearsed and arranged her material for the evening by one o'clock, and had gone home to have a final look at her part, waiting for the evening to come.
On this occasion the lodge sent a carriage. Drouet rode with her as far as the door, and then went about the neighbouring stores, looking for some good cigars. The little actress marched nervously into her dressing-room and began that painfully anticipated matter of make-up which was to transform her, a simple maiden, to Laura, The Belle of Society.
The flare of the gas-jets, the open trunks, suggestive of travel and display, the scattered contents of the make-up box—rouge, pearl powder, whiting, burnt cork, India ink, pencils for the eye-lids, wigs, scissors, looking-glasses, drapery—in short, all the nameless paraphernalia of disguise, have a remarkable atmosphere of their own. Since her arrival in the city many things had influenced her, but always in a far-removed manner. This new atmosphere was more friendly. It was wholly unlike the great brilliant mansions which waved her coldly away, permitting her only awe and distant wonder. This took her by the hand kindly, as one who says, "My dear, come in." It opened for her as if for its own. She had wondered at the greatness of the names upon the bill-boards, the marvel of the long notices in the papers, the beauty of the dresses upon the stage, the atmosphere of carriages, flowers, refinement. Here was no illusion. Here was an open door to see all of that. She had come upon it as one who stumbles upon a secret passage and, behold, she was in the chamber of diamonds and delight!
As she dressed with a flutter, in her little stage room, hearing the voices outside, seeing Mr. Quincel hurrying here and there, noting Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Hoagland at their nervous work of preparation, seeing all the twenty members of the cast moving about and worrying over what the result would be, she could not help thinking what a delight this would be if it would endure; how perfect a state, if she could only do well now, and then some time get a place as a real actress. The thought had taken a mighty hold upon her. It hummed in her ears as the melody of an old song.
Outside in the little lobby another scene was begin enacted. Without the interest of Hurstwood, the little hall would probably have been comfortably filled, for the members of the lodge were moderately interested in its welfare. Hurstwood's word, however, had gone the rounds. It was to be a full-dress affair. The four boxes had been taken. Dr. Norman McNeill Hale and his wife were to occupy one. This was quite a card. C. R. Walker, dry-goods merchant and possessor of at least two hundred thousand dollars, had taken another; a well-known coal merchant had been induced to take the third, and Hurstwood and his friends the fourth. Among the latter was Drouet. The people who were now pouring here were not celebrities, nor even local notabilities, in a general sense. They were the lights of a certain circle—the circle of small fortunes and secret order distinctions. These gentlemen Elks knew the standing of one another. They had regard for the ability which could amass a small fortune, own a nice home, keep a barouche or carriage, perhaps, wear fine clothes, and maintain a good mercantile position. Naturally, Hurstwood, who was a little above the order of mind which accepted this standard as perfect, who had shrewdness and much assumption of dignity, who held an imposing and authoritative position, and commanded friendship by intuitive tact in handling people, was quite a figure. He was more generally known than most others in the same circle, and was looked upon as some one whose reserve covered a mine of influence and solid financial prosperity.
To-night he was in his element. He came with several friends directly from Rector's in a carriage. In the lobby he met Drouet, who was just returning from a trip for more cigars. All five now joined in an animated conversation concerning the company present and the general drift of lodge affairs.
"Who's here?" said Hurstwood, passing into the theatre proper, where the lights were turned up and a company of gentlemen were laughing and talking in the open space back of the seats.
"Why, how do you do, Mr. Hurstwood?" came from the first individual recognised.
"Glad to see you," said the latter, grasping his hand lightly.
"Looks quite an affair, doesn't it?"
"Yes, indeed," said the manager.
"Custer seems to have the backing of its members," observed the friend.
"So it should," said the knowing manager. "I'm glad to see it."
"Well, George," said another rotund citizen, whose avoirdupois made necessary an almost alarming display of starched shirt bosom, "how goes it with you?"
"Excellent," said the manager.
"What brings you over here? You're not a member of Custer."
"Good-nature," returned the manager. "Like to see the boys, you know."
"She couldn't come to-night. She's not well."
"Sorry to hear it—nothing serious, I hope."
"No, just feeling a little ill."
"I remember Mrs. Hurstwood when she was travelling once with you over to St. Joe—" and here the newcomer launched off in a trivial recollection, which was terminated by the arrival of more friends.
"Why, George, how are you?" said another genial West Side politician and lodge member. "My, but I'm glad to see you again; how are things, anyhow?"
"Very well; I see you got that nomination for alderman."
"Yes, we whipped them out over there without much trouble."
"What do you suppose Hennessy will do now?"
"Oh, he'll go back to his brick business. He has a brick-yard, you know."
"I didn't know that," said the manager. "Felt pretty sore, I suppose, over his defeat." "Perhaps," said the other, winking shrewdly.
Some of the more favoured of his friends whom he had invited began to roll up in carriages now. They came shuffling in with a great show of finery and much evident feeling of content and importance.
"Here we are," said Hurstwood, turning to one from a group with whom he was talking.
"That's right," returned the newcomer, a gentleman of about forty-five.
"And say," he whispered, jovially, pulling Hurstwood over by the shoulder so that he might whisper in his ear, "if this isn't a good show, I'll punch your head."
"You ought to pay for seeing your old friends. Bother the show!"
To another who inquired, "Is it something really good?" the manager replied:
"I don't know. I don't suppose so." Then, lifting his hand graciously, "For the lodge."
"Lots of boys out, eh?"
"Yes, look up Shanahan. He was just asking for you a moment ago."
It was thus that the little theatre resounded to a babble of successful voices, the creak of fine clothes, the commonplace of good-nature, and all largely because of this man's bidding. Look at him any time within the half hour before the curtain was up, he was a member of an eminent group—a rounded company of five or more whose stout figures, large white bosoms, and shining pins bespoke the character of their success. The gentlemen who brought their wives called him out to shake hands. Seats clicked, ushers bowed while he looked blandly on. He was evidently a light among them, reflecting in his personality the ambitions of those who greeted him. He was acknowledged, fawned upon, in a way lionised. Through it all one could see the standing of the man. It was greatness in a way, small as it was.
Chapter XIX. AN HOUR IN ELFLAND—A CLAMOUR HALF HEARD
At last the curtain was ready to go up. All the details of the make-up had been completed, and the company settled down as the leader of the small, hired orchestra tapped significantly upon his music rack with his baton and began the soft curtain-raising strain. Hurstwood ceased talking, and went with Drouet and his friend Sagar Morrison around to the box.
"Now, we'll see how the little girl does," he said to Drouet, in a tone which no one else could hear.
On the stage, six of the characters had already appeared in the opening parlour scene. Drouet and Hurstwood saw at a glance that Carrie was not among them, and went on talking in a whisper. Mrs. Morgan, Mrs. Hoagland, and the actor who had taken Bamberger's part were representing the principal roles in this scene. The professional, whose name was Patton, had little to recommend him outside of his assurance, but this at the present moment was most palpably needed. Mrs. Morgan, as Pearl, was stiff with fright. Mrs. Hoagland was husky in the throat. The whole company was so weak-kneed that the lines were merely spoken, and nothing more. It took all the hope and uncritical good-nature of the audience to keep from manifesting pity by that unrest which is the agony of failure.
Hurstwood was perfectly indifferent. He took it for granted that it would be worthless. All he cared for was to have it endurable enough to allow for pretension and congratulation afterward.
After the first rush of fright, however, the players got over the danger of collapse. They rambled weakly forward, losing nearly all the expression which was intended, and making the thing dull in the extreme, when Carrie came in.
One glance at her, and both Hurstwood and Drouet saw plainly that she also was weak-kneed. She came faintly across the stage, saying:
"And you, sir; we have been looking for you since eight o'clock," but with so little colour and in such a feeble voice that it was positively painful.
"She's frightened," whispered Drouet to Hurstwood.
The manager made no answer.
She had a line presently which was supposed to be funny.
"Well, that's as much as to say that I'm a sort of life pill."
It came out so flat, however, that it was a deathly thing. Drouet fidgeted. Hurstwood moved his toe the least bit.
There was another place in which Laura was to rise and, with a sense of impending disaster, say, sadly:
"I wish you hadn't said that, Pearl. You know the old proverb, 'Call a maid by a married name.'"
The lack of feeling in the thing was ridiculous. Carrie did not get it at all. She seemed to be talking in her sleep. It looked as if she were certain to be a wretched failure. She was more hopeless than Mrs. Morgan, who had recovered somewhat, and was now saying her lines clearly at least. Drouet looked away from the stage at the audience. The latter held out silently, hoping for a general change, of course. Hurstwood fixed his eye on Carrie, as if to hypnotise her into doing better. He was pouring determination of his own in her direction. He felt sorry for her.
In a few more minutes it fell to her to read the letter sent in by the strange villain. The audience had been slightly diverted by a conversation between the professional actor and a character called Snorky, impersonated by a short little American, who really developed some humour as a half-crazed, one-armed soldier, turned messenger for a living. He bawled his lines out with such defiance that, while they really did not partake of the humour intended, they were funny. Now he was off, however, and it was back to pathos, with Carrie as the chief figure. She did not recover. She wandered through the whole scene between herself and the intruding villain, straining the patience of the audience, and finally exiting, much to their relief.
"She's too nervous," said Drouet, feeling in the mildness of the remark that he was lying for once.
"Better go back and say a word to her."
Drouet was glad to do anything for relief. He fairly hustled around to the side entrance, and was let in by the friendly door-keeper. Carrie was standing in the wings, weakly waiting her next cue, all the snap and nerve gone out of her.
"Say, Cad," he said, looking at her, "you mustn't be nervous. Wake up. Those guys out there don't amount to anything. What are you afraid of?"
"I don't know," said Carrie. "I just don't seem to be able to do it."
She was grateful for the drummer's presence, though. She had found the company so nervous that her own strength had gone.
"Come on," said Drouet. "Brace up. What are you afraid of? Go on out there now, and do the trick. What do you care?"
Carrie revived a little under the drummer's electrical, nervous condition.
"Did I do so very bad?"
"Not a bit. All you need is a little more ginger. Do it as you showed me. Get that toss of your head you had the other night."
Carrie remembered her triumph in the room. She tried to think she could to it.
"What's next?" he said, looking at her part, which she had been studying.
"Why, the scene between Ray and me when I refuse him."
"Well, now you do that lively," said the drummer. "Put in snap, that's the thing. Act as if you didn't care."
"Your turn next, Miss Madenda," said the prompter.
"Oh, dear," said Carrie.
"Well, you're a chump for being afraid," said Drouet. "Come on now, brace up. I'll watch you from right here."
"Will you?" said Carrie.
"Yes, now go on. Don't be afraid."
The prompter signalled her.
She started out, weak as ever, but suddenly her nerve partially returned. She thought of Drouet looking.
"Ray," she said, gently, using a tone of voice much more calm than when she had last appeared. It was the scene which had pleased the director at the rehearsal.
"She's easier," thought Hurstwood to himself.
She did not do the part as she had at rehearsal, but she was better. The audience was at least not irritated. The improvement of the work of the entire company took away direct observation from her. They were making very fair progress, and now it looked as if the play would be passable, in the less trying parts at least.
Carrie came off warm and nervous.
"Well," she said, looking at him, "was it any better?"
"Well, I should say so. That's the way. Put life into it. You did that about a thousand per cent. better than you did the other scene. Now go on and fire up. You can do it. Knock 'em."
"Was it really better?"
"Better, I should say so. What comes next?"
"That ballroom scene."
"Well, you can do that all right," he said.
"I don't know," answered Carrie.
"Why, woman," he exclaimed, "you did it for me! Now you go out there and do it. It'll be fun for you. Just do as you did in the room. If you'll reel it off that way, I'll bet you make a hit. Now, what'll you bet? You do it."
The drummer usually allowed his ardent good-nature to get the better of his speech. He really did think that Carrie had acted this particular scene very well, and he wanted her to repeat it in public. His enthusiasm was due to the mere spirit of the occasion.
When the time came, he buoyed Carrie up most effectually. He began to make her feel as if she had done very well. The old melancholy of desire began to come back as he talked at her, and by the time the situation rolled around she was running high in feeling.
"I think I can do this."
"Sure you can. Now you go ahead and see."
On the stage, Mrs. Van Dam was making her cruel insinuation against Laura.
Carrie listened, and caught the infection of something—she did not know what. Her nostrils sniffed thinly.
"It means," the professional actor began, speaking as Ray, "that society is a terrible avenger of insult. Have you ever heard of the Siberian wolves? When one of the pack falls through weakness, the others devour him. It is not an elegant comparison, but there is something wolfish in society. Laura has mocked it with a pretence, and society, which is made up of pretence, will bitterly resent the mockery."
At the sound of her stage name Carrie started. She began to feel the bitterness of the situation. The feelings of the outcast descended upon her. She hung at the wing's edge, wrapt in her own mounting thoughts. She hardly heard anything more, save her own rumbling blood.
"Come, girls," said Mrs. Van Dam, solemnly, "let us look after our things. They are no longer safe when such an accomplished thief enters."
"Cue," said the prompter, close to her side, but she did not hear. Already she was moving forward with a steady grace, born of inspiration. She dawned upon the audience, handsome and proud, shifting, with the necessity of the situation, to a cold, white, helpless object, as the social pack moved away from her scornfully.
Hurstwood blinked his eyes and caught the infection. The radiating waves of feeling and sincerity were already breaking against the farthest walls of the chamber. The magic of passion, which will yet dissolve the world, was here at work.
There was a drawing, too, of attention, a riveting of feeling, heretofore wandering.
"Ray! Ray! Why do you not come back to her?" was the cry of Pearl.
Every eye was fixed on Carrie, still proud and scornful. They moved as she moved. Their eyes were with her eyes.
Mrs. Morgan, as Pearl, approached her.
"Let us go home," she said.
"No," answered Carrie, her voice assuming for the first time a penetrating quality which it had never known. "Stay with him!"
She pointed an almost accusing hand toward her lover. Then, with a pathos which struck home because of its utter simplicity, "He shall not suffer long."
Hurstwood realised that he was seeing something extraordinarily good. It was heightened for him by the applause of the audience as the curtain descended and the fact that it was Carrie. He thought now that she was beautiful. She had done something which was above his sphere. He felt a keen delight in realising that she was his.
"Fine," he said, and then, seized by a sudden impulse, arose and went about to the stage door.
When he came in upon Carrie she was still with Drouet. His feelings for her were most exuberant. He was almost swept away by the strength and feeling she exhibited. His desire was to pour forth his praise with the unbounded feelings of a lover, but here was Drouet, whose affection was also rapidly reviving. The latter was more fascinated, if anything, than Hurstwood. At least, in the nature of things, it took a more ruddy form.
"Well, well," said Drouet, "you did out of sight. That was simply great. I knew you could do it. Oh, but you're a little daisy!"
Carrie's eyes flamed with the light of achievement.
"Did I do all right?"
"Did you? Well, I guess. Didn't you hear the applause?"
There was some faint sound of clapping yet.
"I thought I got it something like—I felt it."
Just then Hurstwood came in. Instinctively he felt the change in Drouet. He saw that the drummer was near to Carrie, and jealousy leaped alight in his bosom. In a flash of thought, he reproached himself for having sent him back. Also, he hated him as an intruder. He could scarcely pull himself down to the level where he would have to congratulate Carrie as a friend. Nevertheless, the man mastered himself, and it was a triumph. He almost jerked the old subtle light to his eyes.
"I thought," he said, looking at Carrie, "I would come around and tell you how well you did, Mrs. Drouet. It was delightful."
Carrie took the cue, and replied:
"Oh, thank you."
"I was just telling her," put in Drouet, now delighted with his possession, "that I thought she did fine."
"Indeed you did," said Hurstwood, turning upon Carrie eyes in which she read more than the words.
Carrie laughed luxuriantly.
"If you do as well in the rest of the play, you will make us all think you are a born actress."
Carrie smiled again. She felt the acuteness of Hurstwood's position, and wished deeply that she could be alone with him, but she did not understand the change in Drouet. Hurstwood found that he could not talk, repressed as he was, and grudging Drouet every moment of his presence, he bowed himself out with the elegance of a Faust. Outside he set his teeth with envy.
"Damn it!" he said, "is he always going to be in the way?" He was moody when he got back to the box, and could not talk for thinking of his wretched situation.
As the curtain for the next act arose, Drouet came back. He was very much enlivened in temper and inclined to whisper, but Hurstwood pretended interest. He fixed his eyes on the stage, although Carrie was not there, a short bit of melodramatic comedy preceding her entrance. He did not see what was going on, however. He was thinking his own thoughts, and they were wretched.
The progress of the play did not improve matters for him. Carrie, from now on, was easily the centre of interest. The audience, which had been inclined to feel that nothing could be good after the first gloomy impression, now went to the other extreme and saw power where it was not. The general feeling reacted on Carrie. She presented her part with some felicity, though nothing like the intensity which had aroused the feeling at the end of the long first act.
Both Hurstwood and Drouet viewed her pretty figure with rising feelings. The fact that such ability should reveal itself in her, that they should see it set forth under such effective circumstances, framed almost in massy gold and shone upon by the appropriate lights of sentiment and personality, heightened her charm for them. She was more than the old Carrie to Drouet. He longed to be at home with her until he could tell her. He awaited impatiently the end, when they should go home alone.
Hurstwood, on the contrary, saw in the strength of her new attractiveness his miserable predicament. He could have cursed the man beside him. By the Lord, he could not even applaud feelingly as he would. For once he must simulate when it left a taste in his mouth.
It was in the last act that Carrie's fascination for her lovers assumed its most effective character.
Hurstwood listened to its progress, wondering when Carrie would come on. He had not long to wait. The author had used the artifice of sending all the merry company for a drive, and now Carrie came in alone. It was the first time that Hurstwood had had a chance to see her facing the audience quite alone, for nowhere else had she been without a foil of some sort. He suddenly felt, as she entered, that her old strength—the power that had grasped him at the end of the first act—had come back. She seemed to be gaining feeling, now that the play was drawing to a close and the opportunity for great action was passing.
"Poor Pearl," she said, speaking with natural pathos. "It is a sad thing to want for happiness, but it is a terrible thing to see another groping about blindly for it, when it is almost within the grasp."
She was gazing now sadly out upon the open sea, her arm resting listlessly upon the polished door-post.
Hurstwood began to feel a deep sympathy for her and for himself. He could almost feel that she was talking to him. He was, by a combination of feelings and entanglements, almost deluded by that quality of voice and manner which, like a pathetic strain of music, seems ever a personal and intimate thing. Pathos has this quality, that it seems ever addressed to one alone.
"And yet, she can be very happy with him," went on the little actress. "Her sunny temper, her joyous face will brighten any home."
She turned slowly toward the audience without seeing. There was so much simplicity in her movements that she seemed wholly alone. Then she found a seat by a table, and turned over some books, devoting a thought to them.
"With no longings for what I may not have," she breathed in conclusion—and it was almost a sigh—"my existence hidden from all save two in the wide world, and making my joy out of the joy of that innocent girl who will soon be his wife."
Hurstwood was sorry when a character, known as Peach Blossom, interrupted her. He stirred irritably, for he wished her to go on. He was charmed by the pale face, the lissome figure, draped in pearl grey, with a coiled string of pearls at the throat. Carrie had the air of one who was weary and in need of protection, and, under the fascinating make-believe of the moment, he rose in feeling until he was ready in spirit to go to her and ease her out of her misery by adding to his own delight.
In a moment Carrie was alone again, and was saying, with animation:
"I must return to the city, no matter what dangers may lurk here. I must go, secretly if I can; openly, if I must."
There was a sound of horses' hoofs outside, and then Ray's voice saying: "No, I shall not ride again. Put him up."
He entered, and then began a scene which had as much to do with the creation of the tragedy of affection in Hurstwood as anything in his peculiar and involved career. For Carrie had resolved to make something of this scene, and, now that the cue had come, it began to take a feeling hold upon her. Both Hurstwood and Drouet noted the rising sentiment as she proceeded.
"I thought you had gone with Pearl," she said to her lover.
"I did go part of the way, but I left the Party a mile down the road."
"You and Pearl had no disagreement?"
"No—yes; that is, we always have. Our social barometers always stand at 'cloudy' and 'overcast.'"
"And whose fault is that?" she said, easily.
"Not mine," he answered, pettishly. "I know I do all I can—I say all I can—but she——"
This was rather awkwardly put by Patton, but Carrie redeemed it with a grace which was inspiring.
"But she is your wife," she said, fixing her whole attention upon the stilled actor, and softening the quality of her voice until it was again low and musical. "Ray, my friend, courtship is the text from which the whole sermon of married life takes its theme. Do not let yours be discontented and unhappy."
She put her two little hands together and pressed them appealingly.
Hurstwood gazed with slightly parted lips. Drouet was fidgeting with satisfaction.
"To be my wife, yes," went on the actor in a manner which was weak by comparison, but which could not now spoil the tender atmosphere which Carrie had created and maintained. She did not seem to feel that he was wretched. She would have done nearly as well with a block of wood. The accessories she needed were within her own imagination. The acting of others could not affect them.
"And you repent already?" she said, slowly.
"I lost you," he said, seizing her little hand, "and I was at the mercy of any flirt who chose to give me an inviting look. It was your fault—you know it was—why did you leave me?"
Carrie turned slowly away, and seemed to be mastering some impulse in silence. Then she turned back.
"Ray," she said, "the greatest happiness I have ever felt has been the thought that all your affection was forever bestowed upon a virtuous woman, your equal in family, fortune, and accomplishments. What a revelation do you make to me now! What is it makes you continually war with your happiness?"
The last question was asked so simply that it came to the audience and the lover as a personal thing.
At last it came to the part where the lover exclaimed, "Be to me as you used to be."
Carrie answered, with affecting sweetness, "I cannot be that to you, but I can speak in the spirit of the Laura who is dead to you forever."
"Be it as you will," said Patton.
Hurstwood leaned forward. The whole audience was silent and intent.
"Let the woman you look upon be wise or vain," said Carrie, her eyes bent sadly upon the lover, who had sunk into a seat, "beautiful or homely, rich or poor, she has but one thing she can really give or refuse—her heart."
Drouet felt a scratch in his throat.
"Her beauty, her wit, her accomplishments, she may sell to you; but her love is the treasure without money and without price."
The manager suffered this as a personal appeal. It came to him as if they were alone, and he could hardly restrain the tears for sorrow over the hopeless, pathetic, and yet dainty and appealing woman whom he loved. Drouet also was beside himself. He was resolving that he would be to Carrie what he had never been before. He would marry her, by George! She was worth it.
"She asks only in return," said Carrie, scarcely hearing the small, scheduled reply of her lover, and putting herself even more in harmony with the plaintive melody now issuing from the orchestra, "that when you look upon her your eyes shall speak devotion; that when you address her your voice shall be gentle, loving, and kind; that you shall not despise her because she cannot understand all at once your vigorous thoughts and ambitious designs; for, when misfortune and evil have defeated your greatest purposes, her love remains to console you. You look to the trees," she continued, while Hurstwood restrained his feelings only by the grimmest repression, "for strength and grandeur; do not despise the flowers because their fragrance is all they have to give. Remember," she concluded, tenderly, "love is all a woman has to give," and she laid a strange, sweet accent on the all, "but it is the only thing which God permits us to carry beyond the grave."
The two men were in the most harrowed state of affection. They scarcely heard the few remaining words with which the scene concluded. They only saw their idol, moving about with appealing grace, continuing a power which to them was a revelation.
Hurstwood resolved a thousands things, Drouet as well. They joined equally in the burst of applause which called Carrie out. Drouet pounded his hands until they ached. Then he jumped up again and started out. As he went, Carrie came out, and, seeing an immense basket of flowers being hurried down the aisle toward her she waited. They were Hurstwood's. She looked toward the manager's box for a moment, caught his eye, and smiled. He could have leaped out of the box to enfold her. He forgot the need of circumspectness which his married state enforced. He almost forgot that he had with him in the box those who knew him. By the Lord, he would have that lovely girl if it took his all. He would act at once. This should be the end of Drouet, and don't you forget it. He would not wait another day. The drummer should not have her.
He was so excited that he could not stay in the box. He went into the lobby, and then into the street, thinking. Drouet did not return. In a few minutes the last act was over, and he was crazy to have Carrie alone. He cursed the luck that could keep him smiling, bowing, shamming, when he wanted to tell her that he loved her, when he wanted to whisper to her alone. He groaned as he saw that his hopes were futile. He must even take her to supper, shamming. He finally went about and asked how she was getting along. The actors were all dressing, talking, hurrying about. Drouet was palavering himself with the looseness of excitement and passion. The manager mastered himself only by a great effort.
"We are going to supper, of course," he said, with a voice that was a mockery of his heart.
"Oh, yes," said Carrie, smiling.
The little actress was in fine feather. She was realising now what it was to be petted. For once she was the admired, the sought-for. The independence of success now made its first faint showing. With the tables turned, she was looking down, rather than up, to her lover. She did not fully realise that this was so, but there was something in condescension coming from her which was infinitely sweet. When she was ready they climbed into the waiting coach and drove down town; once, only, did she find an opportunity to express her feeling, and that was when the manager preceded Drouet in the coach and sat beside her. Before Drouet was fully in she had squeezed Hurstwood's hand in a gentle, impulsive manner. The manager was beside himself with affection. He could have sold his soul to be with her alone. "Ah," he thought, "the agony of it."
Drouet hung on, thinking he was all in all. The dinner was spoiled by his enthusiasm. Hurstwood went home feeling as if he should die if he did not find affectionate relief. He whispered "to-morrow" passionately to Carrie, and she understood. He walked away from the drummer and his prize at parting feeling as if he could slay him and not regret. Carrie also felt the misery of it.
"Good-night," he said, simulating an easy friendliness.
"Good-night," said the little actress, tenderly.
"The fool!" he said, now hating Drouet. "The idiot! I'll do him yet, and that quick! We'll see to-morrow."
"Well, if you aren't a wonder," Drouet was saying, complacently, squeezing Carrie's arm. "You are the dandiest little girl on earth."
Chapter XX. THE LURE OF THE SPIRIT—THE FLESH IN PURSUIT
Passion in a man of Hurstwood's nature takes a vigorous form. It is no musing, dreamy thing. There is none of the tendency to sing outside of my lady's window—to languish and repine in the face of difficulties. In the night he was long getting to sleep because of too much thinking, and in the morning he was early awake, seizing with alacrity upon the same dear subject and pursuing it with vigour. He was out of sorts physically, as well as disordered mentally, for did he not delight in a new manner in his Carrie, and was not Drouet in the way? Never was man more harassed than he by the thoughts of his love being held by the elated, flush-mannered drummer. He would have given anything, it seemed to him, to have the complication ended—to have Carrie acquiesce to an arrangement which would dispose of Drouet effectually and forever.
What to do. He dressed thinking. He moved about in the same chamber with his wife, unmindful of her presence.
At breakfast he found himself without an appetite. The meat to which he helped himself remained on his plate untouched. His coffee grew cold, while he scanned the paper indifferently. Here and there he read a little thing, but remembered nothing. Jessica had not yet come down. His wife sat at one end of the table revolving thoughts of her own in silence. A new servant had been recently installed and had forgot the napkins. On this account the silence was irritably broken by a reproof.
"I've told you about this before, Maggie," said Mrs. Hurstwood. "I'm not going to tell you again."
Hurstwood took a glance at his wife. She was frowning. Just now her manner irritated him excessively. Her next remark was addressed to him.
"Have you made up your mind, George, when you will take your vacation?"
It was customary for them to discuss the regular summer outing at this season of the year.
"Not yet," he said, "I'm very busy just now."
"Well, you'll want to make up your mind pretty soon, won't you, if we're going?" she returned.
"I guess we have a few days yet," he said.
"Hmff," she returned. "Don't wait until the season's over."
She stirred in aggravation as she said this.
"There you go again," he observed. "One would think I never did anything, the way you begin."
"Well, I want to know about it," she reiterated.
"You've got a few days yet," he insisted. "You'll not want to start before the races are over."
He was irritated to think that this should come up when he wished to have his thoughts for other purposes.
"Well, we may. Jessica doesn't want to stay until the end of the races."
"What did you want with a season ticket, then?"
"Uh!" she said, using the sound as an exclamation of disgust, "I'll not argue with you," and therewith arose to leave the table.
"Say," he said, rising, putting a note of determination in his voice which caused her to delay her departure, "what's the matter with you of late? Can't I talk with you any more?"
"Certainly, you can TALK with me," she replied, laying emphasis on the word.
"Well, you wouldn't think so by the way you act. Now, you want to know when I'll be ready—not for a month yet. Maybe not then."
"We'll go without you."
"You will, eh?" he sneered.
"Yes, we will."
He was astonished at the woman's determination, but it only irritated him the more.
"Well, we'll see about that. It seems to me you're trying to run things with a pretty high hand of late. You talk as though you settled my affairs for me. Well, you don't. You don't regulate anything that's connected with me. If you want to go, go, but you won't hurry me by any such talk as that."
He was thoroughly aroused now. His dark eyes snapped, and he crunched his paper as he laid it down. Mrs. Hurstwood said nothing more. He was just finishing when she turned on her heel and went out into the hall and upstairs. He paused for a moment, as if hesitating, then sat down and drank a little coffee, and thereafter arose and went for his hat and gloves upon the main floor.
His wife had really not anticipated a row of this character. She had come down to the breakfast table feeling a little out of sorts with herself and revolving a scheme which she had in her mind. Jessica had called her attention to the fact that the races were not what they were supposed to be. The social opportunities were not what they had thought they would be this year. The beautiful girl found going every day a dull thing. There was an earlier exodus this year of people who were anybody to the watering places and Europe. In her own circle of acquaintances several young men in whom she was interested had gone to Waukesha. She began to feel that she would like to go too, and her mother agreed with her.
Accordingly, Mrs. Hurstwood decided to broach the subject. She was thinking this over when she came down to the table, but for some reason the atmosphere was wrong. She was not sure, after it was all over, just how the trouble had begun. She was determined now, however, that her husband was a brute, and that, under no circumstances, would she let this go by unsettled. She would have more lady-like treatment or she would know why.
For his part, the manager was loaded with the care of this new argument until he reached his office and started from there to meet Carrie. Then the other complications of love, desire, and opposition possessed him. His thoughts fled on before him upon eagles' wings. He could hardly wait until he should meet Carrie face to face. What was the night, after all, without her—what the day? She must and should be his.
For her part, Carrie had experienced a world of fancy and feeling since she had left him, the night before. She had listened to Drouet's enthusiastic maunderings with much regard for that part which concerned herself, with very little for that which affected his own gain. She kept him at such lengths as she could, because her thoughts were with her own triumph. She felt Hurstwood's passion as a delightful background to her own achievement, and she wondered what he would have to say. She was sorry for him, too, with that peculiar sorrow which finds something complimentary to itself in the misery of another. She was now experiencing the first shades of feeling of that subtle change which removes one out of the ranks of the suppliants into the lines of the dispensers of charity. She was, all in all, exceedingly happy.
On the morrow, however, there was nothing in the papers concerning the event, and, in view of the flow of common, everyday things about, it now lost a shade of the glow of the previous evening. Drouet himself was not talking so much OF as FOR her. He felt instinctively that, for some reason or other, he needed reconstruction in her regard.
"I think," he said, as he spruced around their chambers the next morning, preparatory to going down town, "that I'll straighten out that little deal of mine this month and then we'll get married. I was talking with Mosher about that yesterday."
"No, you won't," said Carrie, who was coming to feel a certain faint power to jest with the drummer.
"Yes, I will," he exclaimed, more feelingly than usual, adding, with the tone of one who pleads, "Don't you believe what I've told you?"
Carrie laughed a little.
"Of course I do," she answered.
Drouet's assurance now misgave him. Shallow as was his mental observation, there was that in the things which had happened which made his little power of analysis useless. Carrie was still with him, but not helpless and pleading. There was a lilt in her voice which was new. She did not study him with eyes expressive of dependence. The drummer was feeling the shadow of something which was coming. It coloured his feelings and made him develop those little attentions and say those little words which were mere forefendations against danger.
Shortly afterward he departed, and Carrie prepared for her meeting with Hurstwood. She hurried at her toilet, which was soon made, and hastened down the stairs. At the corner she passed Drouet, but they did not see each other.
The drummer had forgotten some bills which he wished to turn into his house. He hastened up the stairs and burst into the room, but found only the chambermaid, who was cleaning up.
"Hello," he exclaimed, half to himself, "has Carrie gone?"
"Your wife? Yes, she went out just a few minutes ago."
"That's strange," thought Drouet. "She didn't say a word to me. I wonder where she went?"
He hastened about, rummaging in his valise for what he wanted, and finally pocketing it. Then he turned his attention to his fair neighbour, who was good-looking and kindly disposed towards him.
"What are you up to?" he said, smiling.
"Just cleaning," she replied, stopping and winding a dusting towel about her hand.
"Tired of it?"
"Not so very."
"Let me show you something," he said, affably, coming over and taking out of his pocket a little lithographed card which had been issued by a wholesale tobacco company. On this was printed a picture of a pretty girl, holding a striped parasol, the colours of which could be changed by means of a revolving disk in the back, which showed red, yellow, green, and blue through little interstices made in the ground occupied by the umbrella top.
"Isn't that clever?" he said, handing it to her and showing her how it worked. "You never saw anything like that before."
"Isn't it nice?" she answered.
"You can have it if you want it," he remarked.
"That's a pretty ring you have," he said, touching a commonplace setting which adorned the hand holding the card he had given her.
"Do you think so?"
"That's right," he answered, making use of a pretence at examination to secure her finger. "That's fine."
The ice being thus broken, he launched into further observation pretending to forget that her fingers were still retained by his. She soon withdrew them, however, and retreated a few feet to rest against the window-sill.
"I didn't see you for a long time," she said, coquettishly, repulsing one of his exuberant approaches. "You must have been away."
"I was," said Drouet.
"Do you travel far?"
"Do you like it?"
"Oh, not very well. You get tired of it after a while."
"I wish I could travel," said the girl, gazing idly out of the window.
"What has become of your friend, Mr. Hurstwood?" she suddenly asked, bethinking herself of the manager, who, from her own observation, seemed to contain promising material.
"He's here in town. What makes you ask about him?"
"Oh, nothing, only he hasn't been here since you got back."
"How did you come to know him?"
"Didn't I take up his name a dozen times in the last month?"
"Get out," said the drummer, lightly. "He hasn't called more than half a dozen times since we've been here."
"He hasn't, eh?" said the girl, smiling. "That's all you know about it."
Drouet took on a slightly more serious tone. He was uncertain as to whether she was joking or not.
"Tease," he said, "what makes you smile that way?"
"Have you seen him recently?"
"Not since you came back," she laughed.
"Why, nearly every day."
She was a mischievous newsmonger, and was keenly wondering what the effect of her words would be.
"Who did he come to see?" asked the drummer, incredulously.
He looked rather foolish at this answer, and then attempted to correct himself so as not to appear a dupe.
"Well," he said, "what of it?"
"Nothing," replied the girl, her head cocked coquettishly on one side.
"He's an old friend," he went on, getting deeper into the mire.
He would have gone on further with his little flirtation, but the taste for it was temporarily removed. He was quite relieved when the girl's named was called from below.
"I've got to go," she said, moving away from him airily.
"I'll see you later," he said, with a pretence of disturbance at being interrupted.
When she was gone, he gave freer play to his feelings. His face, never easily controlled by him, expressed all the perplexity and disturbance which he felt. Could it be that Carrie had received so many visits and yet said nothing about them? Was Hurstwood lying? What did the chambermaid mean by it, anyway? He had thought there was something odd about Carrie's manner at the time. Why did she look so disturbed when he had asked her how many times Hurstwood had called? By George! He remembered now. There was something strange about the whole thing.
He sat down in a rocking-chair to think the better, drawing up one leg on his knee and frowning mightily. His mind ran on at a great rate.
And yet Carrie hadn't acted out of the ordinary. It couldn't be, by George, that she was deceiving him. She hadn't acted that way. Why, even last night she had been as friendly toward him as could be, and Hurstwood too. Look how they acted! He could hardly believe they would try to deceive him.
His thoughts burst into words.
"She did act sort of funny at times. Here she had dressed, and gone out this morning and never said a word."
He scratched his head and prepared to go down town. He was still frowning. As he came into the hall he encountered the girl, who was now looking after another chamber. She had on a white dusting cap, beneath which her chubby face shone good-naturedly. Drouet almost forgot his worry in the fact that she was smiling on him. He put his hand familiarly on her shoulder, as if only to greet her in passing.
"Got over being mad?" she said, still mischievously inclined.
"I'm not mad," he answered.
"I thought you were," she said, smiling.
"Quit your fooling about that," he said, in an offhand way. "Were you serious?"
"Certainly," she answered. Then, with an air of one who did not intentionally mean to create trouble, "He came lots of times. I thought you knew."
The game of deception was up with Drouet. He did not try to simulate indifference further.
"Did he spend the evenings here?" he asked.
"Sometimes. Sometimes they went out."
"In the evening?"
"Yes. You mustn't look so mad, though."
"I'm not," he said. "Did any one else see him?"
"Of course," said the girl, as if, after all, it were nothing in particular.
"How long ago was this?"
"Just before you came back."
The drummer pinched his lip nervously.
"Don't say anything, will you?" he asked, giving the girl's arm a gentle squeeze.
"Certainly not," she returned. "I wouldn't worry over it."
"All right," he said, passing on, seriously brooding for once, and yet not wholly unconscious of the fact that he was making a most excellent impression upon the chambermaid.
"I'll see her about that," he said to himself, passionately, feeling that he had been unduly wronged. "I'll find out, b'George, whether she'll act that way or not."
Chapter XXI. THE LURE OF THE SPIRIT—THE FLESH IN PURSUIT
When Carrie came Hurstwood had been waiting many minutes. His blood was warm; his nerves wrought up. He was anxious to see the woman who had stirred him so profoundly the night before.
"Here you are," he said, repressedly, feeling a spring in his limbs and an elation which was tragic in itself.
"Yes," said Carrie.
They walked on as if bound for some objective point, while Hurstwood drank in the radiance of her presence. The rustle of her pretty skirt was like music to him.
"Are you satisfied?" he asked, thinking of how well she did the night before.
He tightened his fingers as he saw the smile she gave him.
"It was wonderful."
Carrie laughed ecstatically.
"That was one of the best things I've seen in a long time," he added.
He was dwelling on her attractiveness as he had felt it the evening before, and mingling it with the feeling her presence inspired now.
Carrie was dwelling in the atmosphere which this man created for her. Already she was enlivened and suffused with a glow. She felt his drawing toward her in every sound of his voice.
"Those were such nice flowers you sent me," she said, after a moment or two. "They were beautiful."
"Glad you liked them," he answered, simply.
He was thinking all the time that the subject of his desire was being delayed. He was anxious to turn the talk to his own feelings. All was ripe for it. His Carrie was beside him. He wanted to plunge in and expostulate with her, and yet he found himself fishing for words and feeling for a way.
"You got home all right," he said, gloomily, of a sudden, his tune modifying itself to one of self-commiseration.
"Yes," said Carrie, easily.
He looked at her steadily for a moment, slowing his pace and fixing her with his eye.
She felt the flood of feeling.
"How about me?" he asked.
This confused Carrie considerably, for she realised the flood-gates were open. She didn't know exactly what to answer. "I don't know," she answered.
He took his lower lip between his teeth for a moment, and then let it go. He stopped by the walk side and kicked the grass with his toe. He searched her face with a tender, appealing glance.
"Won't you come away from him?" he asked, intensely.
"I don't know," returned Carrie, still illogically drifting and finding nothing at which to catch.
As a matter of fact, she was in a most hopeless quandary. Here was a man whom she thoroughly liked, who exercised an influence over her, sufficient almost to delude her into the belief that she was possessed of a lively passion for him. She was still the victim of his keen eyes, his suave manners, his fine clothes. She looked and saw before her a man who was most gracious and sympathetic, who leaned toward her with a feeling that was a delight to observe. She could not resist the glow of his temperament, the light of his eye. She could hardly keep from feeling what he felt.
And yet she was not without thoughts which were disturbing. What did he know? What had Drouet told him? Was she a wife in his eyes, or what? Would he marry her? Even while he talked, and she softened, and her eyes were lighted with a tender glow, she was asking herself if Drouet had told him they were not married. There was never anything at all convincing about what Drouet said.
And yet she was not grieved at Hurstwood's love. No strain of bitterness was in it for her, whatever he knew. He was evidently sincere. His passion was real and warm. There was power in what he said. What should she do? She went on thinking this, answering vaguely, languishing affectionately, and altogether drifting, until she was on a borderless sea of speculation.
"Why don't you come away?" he said, tenderly. "I will arrange for you whatever—"
"Oh, don't," said Carrie.
"Don't what?" he asked. "What do you mean?"
There was a look of confusion and pain in her face. She was wondering why that miserable thought must be brought in. She was struck as by a blade with the miserable provision which was outside the pale of marriage.
He himself realized that it was a wretched thing to have dragged in. He wanted to weigh the effects of it, and yet he could not see. He went beating on, flushed by her presence, clearly awakened, intensely enlisted in his plan.
"Won't you come?" he said, beginning over and with a more reverent feeling. "You know I can't do without you—you know it—it can't go on this way—can it?"
"I know," said Carrie.
"I wouldn't ask if I—I wouldn't argue with you if I could help it. Look at me, Carrie. Put yourself in my place. You don't want to stay away from me, do you?"