A TOUCH OF SPRING — THE EMPTY SHELL
Those who look upon Hurstwood's Brooklyn venture as an error of judgment will none the less realize the negative influence on him of the fact that he had tried and failed. Carrie got a wrong idea of it. He said so little that she imagined he had encountered nothing worse than the ordinary roughness — quitting so soon in the face of this seemed trifling. He did not want to work.
She was now one of a group of oriental beauties who, in the second act of the comic opera, were paraded by the vizier before the new potentate as the treasures of his harem. There was no word assigned to any of them, but on the evening when Hurstwood was housing himself in the loft of the street-car barn, the leading comedian and star, feeling exceedingly facetious, said in a profound voice, which created a ripple of laughter:
"Well, who are you?"
It merely happened to be Carrie who was curtsying before him. It might as well have been any of the others, so far as he was concerned. He expected no answer and a dull one would have been reproved. But Carrie, whose experience and belief in herself gave her daring, curtsied sweetly again and answered:
"I am yours truly."
It was a trivial thing to say, and yet something in the way she did it caught the audience, which laughed heartily at the mock fierce potentate towering before the young woman. The comedian also liked it, hearing the laughter.
"I thought your name was Smith," he returned, endeavoring to get the last laugh.
Carrie almost trembled for her daring after she had said this. All members of the company had been warned that to interpolate lines or "business" meant a fine or worse. She did not know what to think.
As she was standing in her proper position in the wings, awaiting another entry, the great comedian made his exit past her and paused in recognition.
"You can just leave that in hereafter," he remarked, seeing how intelligent she appeared. "Don't add any more, though."
"Thank you," said Carrie, humbly. When he went on she found herself trembling violently.
"Well, you're in luck," remarked another member of the chorus. "There isn't another one of us has got a line."
There was no gainsaying the value of this. Everybody in the company realized that she had got a start. Carrie hugged herself when next evening the lines got the same applause. She went home rejoicing, knowing that soon something must come of it. It was Hurstwood who, by his presence, caused her merry thoughts to flee and replaced them with sharp longings for an end of distress.
The next day she asked him about his venture.
"They're not trying to run any cars except with police. They don't want anybody just now — not before next week."
Next week came, but Carrie saw no change. Hurstwood seemed more apathetic than ever. He saw her off mornings to rehearsals and the like with the utmost calm. He read and read. Several times he found himself staring at an item, but thinking of something else. The first of these lapses that he sharply noticed concerned a hilarious party he had once attended at a driving club, of which he had been a member. He sat, gazing downward, and gradually thought he heard the old voices and the clink of glasses.
"You're a dandy, Hurstwood," his friend Walker said. He was standing again well dressed, smiling, good-natured, the recipient of encores for a good story.
All at once he looked up. The room was so still it seemed ghostlike. He heard the clock ticking audibly and half suspected that he had been dozing. The paper was so straight in his hands, however, and the items he had been reading so directly before him, that he rid himself of the doze idea. Still, it seemed peculiar. When it occurred a second time, however, it did not seem quite so strange.
Butcher and grocery man, baker and coal man — not the group with whom he was then dealing, but those who had trusted him to the limit — called. He met them all blandly, becoming deft in excuse. At last he became bold, pretended to be out, or waved them off.
"They can't get blood out of a turnip," he said. "if I had it I'd pay them."
Carrie's little soldier friend, Miss Osborne, seeing her succeeding, had become a sort of satellite. Little Osborne could never of herself amount to anything. She seemed to realize it in a sort of pussy-like way and instinctively concluded to cling with her soft little claws to Carrie.
"Oh, you'll get up," she kept telling Carrie with admiration. "You're so good."
Timid as Carrie was, she was strong in capability. The reliance of others made her feel as if she must, and when she must she dared. Experience of the world and of necessity was in her favor. No longer the lightest word of a man made her head dizzy. She had learned that men could change and fail. Flattery in its most palpable form had lost its force with her. It required superiority — kindly superiority — to move her — the superiority of a genius like Ames.
"I don't like the actors in our company," she told Lola one day. "They're all so struck on themselves."
"Don't you think Mr. Barclay's pretty nice?" inquired Lola, who had received a condescending smile or two from that quarter.
"Oh, he's nice enough," answered Carrie; "but he isn't sincere. He assumes such an air."
Lola felt for her first hold upon Carrie in the following manner:
"Are you paying room-rent where you are?"
"Certainly," answered Carrie. "Why?"
"I know where I could get the loveliest room and bath, cheap. It's too big for me, but it would be just right for two, and the rent is only six dollars a week for both."
"Where?" said Carrie.
"In Seventeenth Street."
"Well, I don't know as I'd care to change," said Carrie, who was already turning over the three-dollar rate in her mind. She was thinking if she had only herself to support this would leave her seventeen for herself.
Nothing came of this until after the Brooklyn adventure of Hurstwood's and her success with the speaking part. Then she began to feel as if she must be free. She thought of leaving Hurstwood and thus making him act for himself, but he had developed such peculiar traits she feared he might resist any effort to throw him off. He might hunt her out at the show and hound her in that way. She did not wholly believe that he would, but he might. This, she knew, would be an embarrassing thing if he made himself conspicuous in any way. It troubled her greatly.
Things were precipitated by the offer of a better part. One of the actresses playing the part of a modest sweetheart gave notice of leaving and Carrie was selected.
"How much are you going to get?" asked Miss Osborne, on hearing the good news.
"I didn't ask him," said Carrie.
"Well, find out. Goodness, you'll never get anything if you don't ask. Tell them you must have forty dollars, anyhow."
"Oh, no," said Carrie.
"Certainly!" exclaimed Lola. "Ask 'em, anyway."
Carrie succumbed to this prompting, waiting, however, until the manager gave her notice of what clothing she must have to fit the part.
"How much do I get?" she inquired.
"Thirty-five dollars," he replied.
Carrie was too much astonished and delighted to think of mentioning forty. She was nearly beside herself, and almost hugged Lola, who clung to her at the news.
"It isn't as much as you ought to get," said the latter, "especially when you've got to buy clothes."
Carrie remembered this with a start. Where to get the money? She had none laid up for such an emergency. Rent day was drawing near.
"I'll not do it," she said, remembering her necessity. "I don't use the flat. I'm not going to give up my money this time. I'll move."
Fitting into this came another appeal from Miss Osborne, more urgent than ever.