STIRRING TROUBLED WATERS
Playing in New York one evening on this her return, Carrie was putting the finishing touches to her toilet before leaving for the night, when a commotion near the stage door caught her ear. It included a familiar voice.
"Never mind, now. I want to see Miss Madenda."
"You'll have to send in your card."
"Oh, come off! Here."
A half-dollar was passed over, and now a knock came at her dressing- room door. Carrie opened it.
"Well, well!" said Drouet. "I do swear! Why, how are you? I knew that was you the moment I saw you."
Carrie fell back a pace, expecting a most embarrassing conversation.
"Aren't you going to shake hands with me? Well, you're a dandy! That's all right, shake hands."
Carrie put out her hand, smiling, if for nothing more than the man's exuberant good-nature. Though older, he was but slightly changed. The same fine clothes, the same stocky body, the same rosy countenance.
"That fellow at the door there didn't want to let me in, until I paid him. I knew it was you, all right. Say, you've got a great show. You do your part fine. I knew you would. I just happened to be passing to night and thought I'd drop in for a few minutes. I saw your name on the program, but I didn't remember it until you came on the stage. Then it struck me all at once. Say, you could have knocked me down with a feather. That's the same name you used out there in Chicago, isn't it?"
"Yes," answered Carrie, mildly, overwhelmed by the man's assurance.
"I knew it was, the moment I saw you. Well, how have you been, anyhow?"
"Oh, very well," said Carrie, lingering in her dressing-room. She was rather dazed by the assault. "How have you been?"
"Me? Oh, fine. I'm here now."
"Is that so?" said Carrie.
"Yes. I've been here for six months. I've got charge of a branch here."
"Well, when did you go on the stage, anyhow?" inquired Drouet.
"About three years ago," said Carrie.
"You don't say so! Well, sir, this is the first I've heard of it. I knew you would, though. I always said you could act — didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," she said.
"Well, you do look great," he said. "I never saw anybody improve so. You're taller, aren't you?"
"Me? Oh, a little, maybe."
He gazed at her dress, then at her hair, where a becoming hat was set jauntily, then into her eyes, which she took all occasion to avert. Evidently he expected to restore their old friendship at once and without modification.
"Well," he said, seeing her gather up her purse, handkerchief, and the like, preparatory to departing, "I want you to come out to dinner with me; won't you? I've got a friend out here."
"Oh, I can't," said Carrie. "Not to-night. I have an early engagement to-morrow."
"Aw, let the engagement go. Come on. I can get rid of him. I want to have a good talk with you."
"No, no," said Carrie; "I can't. You mustn't ask me any more. I don't care for a late dinner."
"Well, come on and have a talk, then, anyhow."
"Not to-night," she said, shaking her head. "We'll have a talk some other time."
As a result of this, she noticed a shade of thought pass over his face, as if he were beginning to realize that things were changed. Good- nature dictated something better than this for one who had always liked her.
"You come around to the hotel to-morrow," she said, as sort of penance for error. "You can take dinner with me."
"All right," said Drouet, brightening. "Where are you stopping?"
"At the Waldorf," she answered, mentioning the fashionable hostelry then but newly erected.
"Well, come at three," said Carrie, pleasantly.
The next day Drouet called, but it was with no especial delight that Carrie remembered her appointment. However, seeing him, handsome as ever, after his kind, and most genially disposed, her doubts as to whether the dinner would be disagreeable were swept away. He talked as volubly as ever.
"They put on a lot of lugs here, don't they?" was his first remark.
"Yes; they do," said Carrie.
Genial egotist that he was, he went at once into a detailed account of his own career.
"I'm going to have a business of my own pretty soon," he observed in one place. "I can get backing for two hundred thousand dollars."
Carrie listened most good-naturedly.
"Say," he said, suddenly; "where is Hurstwood now?"
Carrie flushed a little.
"He's here in New York, I guess," she said. "I haven't seen him for some time."
Drouet mused for a moment. He had not been sure until now that the ex- manager was not an influential figure in the background. He imagined not; but this assurance relieved him. It must be that Carrie had got rid of him — as well she ought, he thought. "A man always makes a mistake when he does anything like that," he observed.
"Like what?" said Carrie, unwitting of what was coming.
"Oh, you know," and Drouet waved her intelligence, as it were, with his hand.
"No, I don't," she answered. "What do you mean?"
"Why that affair in Chicago — the time he left."
"I don't know what you are talking about," said Carrie. Could it be he would refer so rudely to Hurstwood's flight with her?
"Oho!" said Drouet, incredulously. "You knew he took ten thousand dollars with him when he left, didn't you?"
"What!" said Carrie. "You don't mean to say he stole money, do you?"
"Why," said Drouet, puzzled at her tone, "you knew that, didn't you?"
"Why, no," said Carrie. "Of course I didn't."
"Well, that's funny," said Drouet. "He did, you know. It was in all the papers."
"How much did you say he took?" said Carrie.
"Ten thousand dollars. I heard he sent most of it back afterwards, though."
Carrie looked vacantly at the richly carpeted floor. A new light was shining upon all the years since her enforced flight. She remembered now a hundred things that indicated as much. She also imagined that he took it on her account. Instead of hatred springing up there was a kind of sorrow generated. Poor fellow! What a thing to have had hanging over his head all the time.
At dinner Drouet, warmed up by eating and drinking and softened in mood, fancied he was winning Carrie to her old-time good-natured regard for him. He began to imagine it would not be so difficult to enter into her life again, high as she was. Ah, what a prize! he thought. How beautiful, how elegant, how famous! In her theatrical and Waldorf setting, Carrie was to him the all desirable.