A GRIM RETROGRESSION — THE PHANTOM OF CHANCE
The Vances, who had been back in the city ever since Christmas, had not forgotten Carrie; but they, or rather Mrs. Vance, had never called on her, for the very simple reason that Carrie had never sent her address. True to her nature, she corresponded with Mrs. Vance as long as she still lived in Seventy-eighth Street, but when she was compelled to move into Thirteenth, her fear that the latter would take it as an indication of reduced circumstances caused her to study some way of avoiding the necessity of giving her address. Not finding any convenient method, she sorrowfully resigned the privilege of writing to her friend entirely. The latter wondered at this strange silence, thought Carrie must have left the city, and in the end gave her up as lost. So she was thoroughly surprised to encounter her in Fourteenth Street, where she had gone shopping. Carrie was there for the same purpose.
"Why, Mrs. Wheeler," said Mrs. Vance, looking Carrie over in a glance, "where have you been? Why haven't you been to see me? I've been wondering all this time what had become of you. Really, I — — "
"I'm so glad to see you," said Carrie, pleased and yet nonplussed. Of all times, this was the worst to encounter Mrs. Vance. "Why, I'm living down town here. I've been intending to come and see you. Where are you living now?"
"In Fifty-eighth Street," said Mrs. Vance, "just off Seventh Avenue — 218. Why don't you come and see me?"
"I will," said Carrie. "Really, I've been wanting to come. I know I ought to. It's a shame. But you know — — "
"What's your number?" said Mrs. Vance.
"Thirteenth Street," said Carrie, reluctantly. "112 West."
"Oh," said Mrs. Vance, "that's right near here, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Carrie. "You must come down and see me some time."
"Well, you're a fine one," said Mrs. Vance, laughing, the while noting that Carrie's appearance had modified somewhat. "The address, too," she added to herself. "They must be hard up."
Still she liked Carrie well enough to take her in tow.
"Come with me in here a minute," she exclaimed, turning into a store.
When Carrie returned home, there was Hurstwood, reading as usual. He seemed to take his condition with the utmost nonchalance. His beard was at least four days old.
"Oh," thought Carrie, "if she were to come here and see him?"
She shook her head in absolute misery. It looked as if her situation was becoming unbearable.
Driven to desperation, she asked at dinner:
"Did you ever hear any more from that wholesale house?"
"No," he said. "They don't want an inexperienced man."
Carrie dropped the subject, feeling unable to say more.
"I met Mrs. Vance this afternoon," she said, after a time.
"Did, eh?" he answered.
"They're back in New York now," Carrie went on. "She did look so nice."
"Well, she can afford it as long as he puts up for it," returned Hurstwood. "He's got a soft job."
Hurstwood was looking into the paper. He could not see the look of infinite weariness and discontent Carrie gave him.
"She said she thought she'd call here some day."
"She's been long getting round to it, hasn't she?" said Hurstwood, with a kind of sarcasm.
The woman didn't appeal to him from her spending side.
"Oh, I don't know," said Carrie, angered by the man's attitude. "Perhaps I didn't want her to come."
"She's too gay," said Hurstwood, significantly. "No one can keep up with her pace unless they've got a lot of money."
"Mr. Vance doesn't seem to find it very hard."
"He may not now," answered Hurstwood, doggedly, well understanding the inference; "but his life isn't done yet. You can't tell what'll happen. He may get down like anybody else."
There was something quite knavish in the man's attitude. His eye seemed to be cocked with a twinkle upon the fortunate, expecting their defeat. His own state seemed a thing apart — not considered.
This thing was the remains of his old-time cocksureness and independence. Sitting in his flat, and reading of the doings of other people, sometimes this independent, undefeated mood came upon him. Forgetting the weariness of the streets and the degradation of search, he would sometimes prick up his ears. It was as if he said:
"I can do something. I'm not down yet. There's a lot of things coming to me if I want to go after them."
It was in this mood that he would occasionally dress up, go for a shave, and, putting on his gloves, sally forth quite actively. Not with any definite aim. It was more a barometric condition. He felt just right for being outside and doing something.
On such occasions, his money went also. He knew of several poker rooms down town. A few acquaintances he had in downtown resorts and about the City Hall. It was a change to see them and exchange a few friendly commonplaces.
He had once been accustomed to hold a pretty fair hand at poker. Many a friendly game had netted him a hundred dollars or more at the time when that sum was merely sauce to the dish of the game-not the all in all. Now, he thought of playing.
"I might win a couple of hundred. I'm not out of practice."
It is but fair to say that this thought had occurred to him several times before he acted upon it. The poker room which he first invaded was over a saloon in West Street, near one of the ferries. He had been there before. Several games were going. These he watched for a time and noticed that the pots were quite large for the ante involved.
"Deal me a hand," he said at the beginning of a new shuffle. He pulled up a chair and studied his cards. Those playing made that quiet study of him which is so unapparent, and yet invariably so searching.
Poor fortune was with him at first. He received a mixed collection without progression or pairs. The pot was opened.
"I pass," he said.
On the strength of this, he was content to lose his ante. The deals did fairly by him in the long run, causing him to come away with a few dollars to the good.
The next afternoon he was back again, seeking amusement and profit. This time he followed up three of a kind to his doom. There was a better hand across the table, held by a pugnacious Irish youth, who was a political hanger-on of the Tammany district in which they were located. Hurstwood was surprised at the persistence of this individual, whose bets came with a sangfroid which, if a bluff, was excellent art. Hurstwood began to doubt, but kept, or thought to keep, at least, the cool demeanor with which, in olden times, he deceived those psychic students of the gaming table, who seem to read thoughts and moods, rather than exterior evidences, however subtle. He could not down the cowardly thought that this man had something better and would stay to the end, drawing his last dollar into the pot, should he choose to go so far. Still, he hoped to win much — his hand was excellent. Why not raise it five more?
"I raise you three," said the youth.
"Make it five," said Hurstwood, pushing out his chips.
"Come again," said the youth, pushing out a small pile of reds.
"Let me have some more chips," said Hurstwood to the keeper in charge, taking out a bill.
A cynical grin lit up the face of his youthful opponent. When the chips were laid out, Hurstwood met the raise.
"Five again," said the youth.
Hurstwood's brow was wet. He was deep in now — very deep for him. Sixty dollars of his good money was up. He was ordinarily no coward, but the thought of losing so much weakened him. Finally he gave way. He would not trust to this fine hand any longer.